building communication skills to help with the Terrible Twos

At 15 months, we’re getting a premature taste of the infamous Terrible Two stage. Our little boy’s personality seems to be developing along what the books call “spirited” or “strong-willed”, even “high-need” (although this last term is politically incorrect anymore). His Khmer nanny is bewildered and amused at the range, intensity and volatility of emotion he exhibits. He can be blissfully happy one second and thrashing about in a full rage for the next two hours. It sets him off when we don’t understand what he wants. With redirecting a bit more difficult now we’ve had to be creative.

Thankfully he’s developed some decent communication skills early on. The fact that signing and verbalizing are still novel to him at this stage, and that it gets a lot of positive attention, means we can exploit this! So we’re trying to help him realize that there are better ways to get his point across than through a tantrum.

He can sign. We signed to him since he was just a few weeks old, so he knows the basic ones like mum-mum (mom’s milk), finished, change the diaper, hurt and sleep. He demonstrates that he understands the signs but he doesn’t use all of them.

His verbal skills are excellent. His first words at just a little over a year old were mum-mum, chkai (dog), fish and turtle. Today his ramblings are sprinkled with big words or phrases like elephant (“puh-pet”), octopus (“AHH-puhpuh”), chipmunk (“muh-munk”), kangaroo (“rah-rah-rooo”), other side (“uhh-thuh-thai”).

And as with any multilingual and/or expatriate families, he’s is exposed to several languages. His nanny doesn’t speak English and most people he meets prattle at him in Khmer. I try to talk to him in Tagalog and one of our neighbors who he frequently interacts with speaks to him in Bengali.

Interestingly, he uses whichever language is easier for the word he wants to use. For example, he’ll say svai rather than mango, awluk rather than watermelon. We aren’t necessarily teaching him all four languages – but we want to give him that kind of exposure. I and most of my friends grew up in a 3+ language family and there’s increasing evidence it augments cognitive development. That he can choose between them to find the easiest way to say what he wants to say is a bonus!

And at this stage he gestures a lot. He asks to be picked up and we just follow his pointing signals.

The main point is that communication has been a huge tool in helping us deal with the Terrible Twos. It’s fascinating to watch this little boy communicating his wishes (what goes on in their little heads?!). He can now usually get his point across early so we can either accommodate him or anticipate and redirect temper flares. It’s a tiring and frustrating but very rewarding phase, “growing” this littler person!

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