Communication fail

When the Toddler was about nine months old, people would regularly tell me: “Oooh he’ll be walking soon, then your nice easy life will be over, haha!” First of all, we will gloss over the suggestion that life with a nine month old baby was easy and move straight onto the effects of walking on the status quo. I couldn’t wait for him to walk, and when he did I was overjoyed. They get so heavy at that age and it is such a blessing to be able to just hold their hand and let them walk. The only downside that I had strangely not anticipated was that he didn’t want to go where I wanted to go. Yes, he walked and eventually ran, but usually towards a busy road or to the corner shop where he had a better view of the trucks driving past along the main route out of our neighbourhood.

Talking, I also eagerly anticipated. How amazing that he would be able to tell me what he wanted and what was wrong if he was upset! This, too, has mainly remained a fantasy up until now. Yes, he can tell me what he wants most of the time (“Milk, Mummy!” “Juice” “No, not beneden [downstairs]”) but words fail him when it really matters.

He is lying on the floor, kicking and screaming at a volume and pitch that could shatter glass, tears rolling down his cheeks. “What is the matter?” I ask. He just wails.

He is sitting on the sofa, keeping up a constant whine and not responding to any suggestions, other than by temporarily increasing the volume of the whining. “Are you alright?” I ask. “Would you like a drink?” He whines a little louder.

He wakes up in the night, crying. Bleary eyed, muzzy haired, he is standing up in his cot holding Teddy. “Are you in pain?” I ask. He just cries.

I suppose when I am unhappy words fail me too. But it seems a little unfair, as surely the purpose of learning to talk is to be able to communicate with those who can help in moments of distress, as well as being able to count and point out “a big big bus”.

Finally, a little slice of toddler-conversation. In the same five minutes he will be enigmatically unintelligible, desperately trying to explain something very important that I just can’t decipher:

“Mummy, racing car! Pat. Dot. Nuhnuh wheels. Racing car.” This while sitting at the dinner table-

followed by an exchange that is clear as day:

“Klaar, [Finished]” He pushes his bowl away.
“Wil je niet meer eten?” [Don’t you want anymore dinner?]
“Nee. Ziek.” [No. Poorly.]
I double check: “Is het omdat je ziek bent dat je niet meer wil eten?” [Is it because you feel poorly that you don’t want anymore dinner].
“Mm-hm!” he nods, and climbs down from his chair, off to do some more therapeutic counting with his new  number fridge magnets.

8 responses

  1. What a lovely post, love the bilingual bit! It’s funny how you expect instant changes – when they can talk, they can talk! But actually they are probably heading for 4 before they can make themselves properly understood all the time, not when they utter their first word around their 1st birthday.
    Popping over from PoCoLo (again!) and really enjoying your blog.

    • Yes, all those changes take much longer than you’d think. But I find it fascinating to observe and log how it happens: what kinds of words come first and next, and what concepts take longer to develop etc. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I think it’s all the emotions that prevent the language from coming out at those times, crying, anger etc… Their emotions are so strong at that age and they have no idea how to control them so adding talking into the mix and you might as well forget it! I’m sure he will get there and the fact that he is bi-lingual may have an impact too. My twin son has expressive language delay and is pretty chatty now but when he gets all excited about something it comes out all jumbled and confused (I can usually understand him because I know him so well). All in good time I think xx

    • You’re so right, the strong emotions just flood their brain and they can’t access language anymore. It seems rather sad though, doesn’t it, because you know that theoretically they could tell you what is wrong. He is getting better now though, sometimes through the tears there will be a clue, like: “Want…a… liiiiiiiiiid” will reveal that I have foolishly given him a big boy cup for his milk.

  3. Ooh it is so hard isn’t it, sometimes? We are bilingual in our house too and Primrose was speaking really well by the time she was 13mths old. Poppy is taking her time and is only now really starting to speak at 16mths. She chooses not to and understands everything – very frustrating so I can totally sympathise!! xx

    • Oh really! I hadn’t yet spotted that on your blog, must keep reading the back story! I feel like I really need to work hard at the bilingualism, as I am the only one who speaks Dutch to him here. How is Primrose with the two languages now – I assume English is her strongest one, but how confident is she in the ‘minority language’ (if you’ll excuse the jargon)?

      • I was brought up bilingual as my mother is from Brazil. I really tried to keep it up at home and Primrose speaks a little Portuguese but understands pretty much everything. Need to practice so much more otherwise it will go as she starts school.

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