How to understand your toddler when he doesn’t speak yet?

During infancy, babies express their emotions by crying, but you may have noticed that a baby’s cry sounds different every time. Here’s a quick guide to help you recognise what information your baby is crying to convey.

  • If the baby cries for a few seconds and then suddenly stops, as if waiting for the parents to react, the baby wants to invite you to join him or her and is probably bored. If you don’t react right away, the toddler will again give a short squeal and suddenly stop talking. If the baby doesn’t wait for you, after a few repetitions of this type of crying, he may start crying hysterically.
  • The crying mentioned above can also signal hunger, but the baby’s movements will help you to distinguish between a cry of invitation and a cry of hunger: when hungry, the baby will turn its head and chomp.
  • The incessant, increasingly loud, occasionally squeaky, monotonous crying signals pain: perhaps teething, perhaps a tummy bug. There are also times when your baby informs you of the pain with a quiet, monotonous cry, but this happens when your baby no longer has the strength to cry out loud, has a fever, has difficulty breathing because of a stuffy nose, etc.
  • Does your little one quietly sniffle for no reason, stroke his ears, rub his eyes, or occasionally sniffle? He wants you to know that it’s time for bed.
  • If your baby is crying, fussing, fidgeting, flapping her arms, wriggling, or wiggling, you should check the nappies, and maybe it’s time to change them. If you are travelling by car, you should check that your baby is comfortable in the car seat, and that the folds of fabric on the back may be annoying your baby. Also check if your baby is too hot or too cold. You can do this by putting your hand on the back of the head, between the shoulder blades. If the area is hot, the baby should be slightly undressed.

Even though your baby is not yet talking, it can send you information through its movements. The main movements that send certain messages are:

  • Does he roll his back when you feed your baby? This could be a message to you about reflux in your baby. When a toddler is upset, it tries to help itself. If the behaviour seems unrelated to feeding, the baby may simply be upset and needs to be comforted or held.
  • Active leg-wagging can mean that:
    • He has recently discovered his little legs and has learned how to use them, which brings him a lot of joy;
    • The baby is kicking and squirming – most likely something is wrong or hurting. Maybe your baby is suffering from colic or is telling you that it’s time to change nappies.
  • The immature nervous system of a newborn baby causes it to clench its fists. They open their palms at around week 8 of life. Later in life, clenched fists can be a sign of stress, fear or even hunger, because when they are hungry, babies tense all the muscles in their body.
  • Many parents find the action of banging their baby’s head against the wall, the edge of the cot or the ground disturbing. This action usually tells parents that the toddler is bored. However, if your child keeps banging his head on the ground or a wall when you try to get him interested in other activities, or if he doesn’t pay attention to you, your paediatrician should be informed.
  • Does your toddler stroke or tug on your ears? Don’t be alarmed, it’s not necessarily ear infections that terrify parents. Often, toddlers tug or stroke their ears to sleep or to soothe themselves during teething. Or maybe your little one has just discovered that they have ears and wants to enjoy them?
  • Bringing the knees close to the abdomen signals abdominal discomfort. Your baby may have gas or constipation. You get to help him by making sure that after each feeding, the baby takes a nap. You can gently stroke your baby’s tummy by turning the circles clockwise with your palm, or you can do an exercise by slowly pressing your baby’s knees against her tummy, holding for a couple of seconds and repeating the same movements again. This exercise helps to get rid of accumulated gas.