Signs of receptive language in your contrary toddler

“No” is a really fun word to say, especially for a toddler who is still exploring their boundaries and learning how to interact with the world. Can they influence a situation just by using this one syllable? How could they resist finding out? If you’re living with an adorable, but contrary, toddler, they might not want to do what you say that often, but you can still look out for signs of receptive language learning.

Learning receptive language means being able to understand the words, actions, and different forms of communication used to communicate with them, and you may have already noticed signs of this in Baby. If you tell them to wave goodbye, and they do, you know that they understood what you said!

Of course, this could be a combination of understanding your words and understanding different visual cues and routines, which are all part of learning receptive language. If you usually ask Baby to wave goodbye when you leave somewhere and wave your own hand as an example, Baby might put those clues together even if they doesn&;t necessarily understand the words you’re saying. As Baby gets older, they will rely less on context clues like this because they will better understand your actual language.

This year is going to be pretty exciting in terms of receptive language development for Baby! You’ll start to notice more signs that they understand what you’re saying, and communication between you two will expand in a lot of ways. The most obvious sign of receptive language learning will be that Baby can respond to the things you say in a way that makes sense. “Yes” or “no” questions can be tricky because Baby can easily give you a sensible answer without necessarily understanding your question, so open-ended questions and requests tend to work better as ways to tell if they understand you. You may also notice Baby‘s observations about the world around them – things you might not necessarily have taught them that they have picked up anyway, like announcing the names of objects.

Requests (like asking Baby to bring you something) often work well at this age because your toddler will probably either do what you ask or refuse to do it, still indicating that they can understand your meaning. Simple requests with one element (“Could you grab that blanket for me?”) or requests with clearly defined steps (“Can you put your toy away first and then choose a book?”) can work really well. 

If you do make a request or ask a question that doesn’t provoke the response you’re expecting, it still doesn’t always mean Baby didn’t understand you. You can look for visual cues to see signs of receptive language. For instance, if it’s a request they doesn&;t want to do, they might shake their head or dive deeper into whatever activity is currently occupying them.

It’s also possible that Baby can understand you but doesn’t know quite how to respond. They might string a few words together that don’t make sense or speak gibberish with a lot of confidence. When you do recognize a word or a semblance of a word, you can enocurage them by repeating it back to them correctly and prompting them to get their full thought out.

You can help improve Baby‘s receptive language skills by encouraging them to talk to you, naming things around your home, explaining things in different ways at different times, reading picture books, and playing games like Simon Says. Receptive language skills are going to be important when Baby plays with other children and eventually starts school, so it’s great to work on language learning early!


  • T. Berry Brazelton, Joshua D. Sparrow. Touchpoints. De Capo Press. 2006. Print.
  • “Receptive Language (understanding words and language).” Kid Sense. Kid Sense Child Development Corporation. 2017.

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