My Jack did not start talking until about 22 months. That includes saying “mama” when he wanted me. Prior to that he used no words at all, just grunted. Despite the fact that he couldn’t talk, I knew he still understood most of what I said. His not talking only pushed me further to talk to him about EVERYTHING. I pointed out everything we saw, named everything we did and were going to do and, probably what I’m most proud of, is give a word to any emotion he was feeling.
Jack has thrown MANY tantrums (and still continues to do so although they have lessoned to some extent, thank God!). The ones prior to him talking were probably the hardest to deal with because our communication was limited. I wasn’t sure if he understood what was going on and was protesting, if he was trying to tell me something and I wasn’t getting it or if it was the usual tired/hungry tantrum (which most often are the culprits). Nevertheless, from that early age on I have encouraged him to give words to what he is feeling.
Once I was able to get him calm and I knew the source of his tantrum I would explain it to him. “You are upset because you are tired and need to rest,” or “you are hungry and will feel better once you have snack.” Sometimes it was “I know you are mad that we have to leave but we must go home now.” Other times I was at a loss and I would just ask, “Jack what’s wrong? Why are you mad?” As you probably guessed, I didn’t get an answer but that was ok. He still heard me and he eventually understood.
When he was a little over two years old an amazing thing happened. After a huge blow up (which for him is usually accompanied with vomiting) he suddenly stopped crying and said “okay, I’m just tired.” I was astonished! The crying and fighting stopped and he just looked up at me and sniffled. I gave him a big hug and told him I was very proud of him for telling me how he was feeling. Now that I knew what was wrong, together we were able to fix the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to go ballistic. I wanted to shout “yeah, you think your tired? No crap, look at how’ve you been acting the last 30 minutes” but the idea was not to deter him from doing something good. Communicating with me about what he was feeling was a good thing and good behaviors have to be encouraged.
Now, at 32 months, it’s quite common for him to tell me what’s wrong both before a full fledged tantrum or after a tantrum. Sometimes he tells me he’s hungry, other times it’s that he’s tired or that he wants to do something in particular. I think it’s a beautiful thing for him to recognize what he’s feeling and be able to convey that with his words. At times he will also apologize by telling me he’s sorry before he goes into what’s wrong. I should note that I never really forced an apology from him (once or twice in the beginning but my efforts were futile) except when he hits his brother. I should mention that I have always apologized to him when I did something wrong that I shouldn’t have. This could be when I used bad words, when I was cranky and took it out on him, etc.
No matter what your child’s age, they are never too young or too old to help them decipher their emotions and (eventually) communicate them with you. Sometimes it might be us that needs help communicating our feelings with others. While it might be hard to get used to at first, it’s a whole lot better hearing what’s really wrong than trying to guess. It’s also just as freeing telling someone what’s wrong than wondering why they aren’t getting it!