Headstart for Life

My Toddler Has a Communication Deficit

Welcome back to our blog, Beyond Therapy!

My baby boy reached his one-year-old milestone last month! Instead of the happy baby I thought he would grow to be, he has grown in other ways. He has grown to have a louder voice, a more persistent cry when he does not get what he wants, and a smarter brain that cannot be so easily tricked.

While he is developing stronger preferences for what he wants, he is not yet able to fully communicate what he wants, resulting in frustration, crying and shouting behaviors.   I came to the realisation that my one-year-old is going through a stage in life wherein he has a communication deficit.


This blog post is for parents who have a child who is approximately one-year of age. First, let’s put ourselves in our child’s shoes and see the crying and shouting behaviors from their perspective.

Little Joe is seated in his high chair during lunchtime. His mummy places chicken and rice in front of him and gives him a taste. As his mummy tries to feed him more, Joe pushes his head back and shouts. His mummy says, “Oh you want a biscuit first” and puts a biscuit on his plate. This makes Joe shout louder. His mummy scratches her head and says, “Maybe you want water?” and proceeds to give him water, making Joe even more upset.


Photo credits: http://www.parenting.com/article/soothing-a-crying-baby

What is wrong? If little Joe could speak, he would tell his mummy that the food is too hot!

Our one-year-old shouts and screams, often extremely loudly and persistently, not because they are “throwing a tantrum” but because there is something they want, yet they are not able to communicate it to us.

As parents, we can help our little ones develop communication skills early on to decrease frustration and unwanted behaviors. You can help to equip your child to be an early communicator, even before speech is developed. Here are some suggestions to empower your toddler to communicate:

1. Give your child the opportunity to choose between two locations/items.

Remember to wait after presenting two choices. Give your child time to respond by observing which direction his body is moving towards. Later you can shape your child’s response from using his body to using his index finger to point to his choice.

  • Example 1: “Do you want to go up (point up the stairs) or to the kitchen (point to the kitchen)?
  • Example 2: “Do you want to play with the car or the ball?” (hold the items further apart in space)

                 Step 1: Offer a choice.


Wait for a response

                Step 2: Wait for a response.

2. Teach the concept of a request.

a) Hold out your hand to model the concept of a request. When you want something, hold out your hand and say, “I want” or “Give” so your child understands the palm out gesture is a request.

Extend your palm up to model a request.

Extend your palm up to model a request.

b) Once your child sees you use the palm up gesture to request, it will be easier for him/her to use it. When your child grabs a wanted item from you, redirect his hand so his palm faces up and model verbally, “I want.” Immediately give him the wanted item.

Redirect your child's hand from snatching to palm up to request

Redirect your child’s hand from snatching to palm up to request

3. Teach the concept of waiting.

Your child does not understand the concept of waiting. If your child does not get what he wants quickly, he/she thinks that you do not understand what he wants and will react negatively. If you need extra time to accomplish a task (e.g., picking up your child from baby chair), hold up your hand and say, “Wait,” and count from 1-10 according to the pace you need to accomplish your task. Once you reach 10, you should have accomplished your task (e.g., picked up your child from his chair). This teaches your child to wait calmly with the expectation that you will meet his/her need.

Tell your child, "Wait"

Step 1. Tell your child, “Wait”



Step 2. Count 1 to 10.

4. Teach the concept of no.

Hold out your index finger and say a firm “no” to tell your child not to do something (e.g., touching the electric socket). Be consistent with the chosen gesture and word. Your child will quickly understand the meaning of this gesture and word from the tone of your voice and the look on your face. The quicker your child understands, the quicker he/she will be able to use it. ‘No’ is a very important and communicative word that empowers your child to communicate his/her dislike without resorting to shouting and crying.


Gesture for ‘no’


I hope HeadStart For Life’s blog post today was informative for parents with one-year old children. Please try the suggestions above and I would love to hear about your experience below!



"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Jessica

Jessica is an experienced speech and language therapist who has been working with young children with speech-language delays and Autism Spectrum Disorders. She believes in developing a nurturing relationship with each child and his/her family and strongly believes in active parent involvement in therapy sessions. Jessica uses engaging activities that are meaningful to each individual to motivate and empower them to be effective communicators. She is a mother of a toddler boy, which she believes makes her a more empathetic clinician.

Leave a Reply