Understanding What Your Child is Saying

Learning to talk is a gradual process. It’s common for a child’s speech to become less clear as she tries to use more words with more difficult sounds, because these require more effort and motor control.

Your child may in fact end up saying as little as possible during different stages of learning to talk, or they may begin to act up, out of frustration at not being able to communicate the way your child would like.

It is very important for parents to pay close attention to their child’s attempts to communicate, and to encourage these attempts.

Here are some tips to use if you’re having trouble understanding what your child is trying to say:

  • If you don’t understand what your child is saying, encourage them to repeat it by saying things like “Tell me again” or “Tell me more.”
  • If you got part of what your child said, repeat the part that you understood, and ask them to fill in the missing parts.

Watch your child closely.

  • Watch for eye movements or gestures that might give you a hint about what your child is trying to say.

Ask your child for help. 

  • Make it appear like you’re having trouble hearing by saying things like “I didn’t quite hear that” and ask your child to say it again.

If after all of your attempts, you still can’t understand what your child is trying to tell you, you may have to apologetically say that you do not understand.

Usually children’s speech improves over time. If you are concerned that your child’s speech isn’t improving or if your child keeps acting up out of frustration over not being able to be understood, you may want to discuss this with your child’s doctor. You can also call the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists at 1-800-259-8519, and they will guide you to an appropriate referral if needed.