National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter

Johnna C. Darragh, M.S.
Doctoral Student
Human Development and Family Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Talking with toddlers and two-year-olds can be both challenging and rewarding. The challenge lies in creating an atmosphere where both you and the child enhance each others' lives through successful communication. The rewards lie in the exciting and new world that can open up for you when you are viewing life through a young child's eyes.

Child care providers need an array of skills to face the challenge of successfully communicating with toddlers and two-year-olds. The first and most important skill is to remember that toddlers and two-year-olds are people. Although they interact with and experience the world differently than adults, they deserve the respect and courtesy that one would extend to any adult.

Here are some general guidelines for communicating with young children.

  • Always talk with young children at their level. It may be necessary to stoop, kneel, or sit, but it is important to be on an eye to eye level with the child. Children are constantly loomed over by adults in their environment, which can foster and create feelings of insignificance. Additionally, by getting at the child's level, you are communicating to the child “I am interested in what you have to say.” Getting at the child's level also provides an opportunity to develop muscles you may not have even known you had.
  • Be natural when talking with toddlers and two-year-olds. Being natural applies to both facial expressions and voice qualities. Often, people talk to young children as if they were tiny babies. We sometimes have the tendency to exaggerate our facial expressions and/or to use a high-pitched voice when talking to children. Since young children tend to imitate the behaviors they see in adults, adults engaging in natural behavior will promote children's use of natural voice and facial expressions.
  • Be patient when talking with young children. Young children do not live on an adult's pace, and are not used to having to express their ideas quickly. Nor are they capable of rushing their ideas out or even finding the basic words they need to express themselves. By patiently listening and encouraging young children to express their ideas, both you and the child can have a positive learning experience. For children, the positive learning experience results from your demonstrating to them that their thoughts, ideas, and needs are important. By being patient, you are letting children know that you are interested in hearing what they have to say. As the adult, you learn more about how children view the world.
  • Often, it can be difficult to understand what young children are trying to express. It is important to convey to a child that you are very interested in what he or she has to say, but that you are having trouble understanding him/her. It is often tempting to pretend you understand the child, or to ignore what the child is trying to communicate. This does not result in a learning experience for you or for the child. Simply put, the child has not successfully communicated, and you have not received his or her message. By helping children to communicate, you show interest in what they are saying, as well as promote their communication skills.
  • Be sure to be courteous when communicating with children. Sometimes, especially when other children are present, it is necessary to interrupt a conversation to respond to another situation. If this should occur, excuse yourself. Always be sure to return to the child when you have taken care of the other situation, apologizing and explaining why you had to run off.

The above guidelines can serve to promote communication with toddlers and two-year-olds. It is also important to remember that how you talk with other children and with adults serves as a model for young children. It is also important to model courtesy, respect, and good listening skills in all your interactions.

By practicing good, basic communication skills with toddlers and two-year-olds, you promote children's language development, self-esteem, and enhance their communication skills. Additionally, through communication, you can enter the world of the young child where everything is new, exciting, and worth exploration.

National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
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Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Darragh, J. C. (1994). Talking with toddlers and two-year-olds. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 3(4), pp. 3-4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

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