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Speech therapy turned our toddler into a parrot! Help from Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

How do you get a toddler to stop repeating the same words over and over?

By Ceridwen Morris |

After months of worry and thousands of dollars of speech therapy, we just want our two-year-old to shut up already! With his newfound verbosity, he will latch on to a few words or a phrase, and repeat them over and over and over, often while saying it closer and closer to our faces. We figure this is an attention-getting tactic that he’s been using since our second child came into the picture, so we try to acknowledge the phrase with a smile and full eye contact, “Yes! Gordon and Percy crashed on the track! Yes!” Then, he’ll craft another observation and repeat that over and over until he receives confirmation that, indeed, he has been heard. Sometimes, he won’t stop a favorite phrase after a typically placating, “Uh huh! Yes! That’s right!” This can go on for hours and it is starting to drive my husband and me crazy. We beg him, “Okay, please stop repeating. You only need to say it one time, okay?” but then he screams and runs out of the room. We’re totally at a loss. What can we do to stop this maddening behavior without damaging our son’s self-esteem? – Mrs. Polly Wannacracker

Dear Polly,

The verbal stylings of two-year-olds are simply adorable. Until they aren’t. Your son’s endless repetitions are just one of the many ways a toddler can use his voice to irritate his loving parents. Toddlerhood is about exploration: cause and effect. What he’s doing now is part of a natural progression from cooing to babbling, from raspberries to ear-piercing shrieks, and now, to endless questions about Thomas and Friends. If your son has had a big verbal breakthrough the excitement may be especially hard to contain.

So your son’s speech situation sounds totally normal, if a little annoying. (You probably know that, what with the thousands of dollars of speech therapy.) He’s formulating his own ideas and expressing them, then trying to get a reaction. This is what language is for. Not only is he trying to establish that his observations are correct, he is trying to figure out how the whole verbal communication loop works. If I say this, what happens? Will someone hear me? Will they say something back? What if I keep saying it, over and over again? Will Mommy say something back every time? He may actually be trying to figure out whether it’s possible to say something too many times. Will Mommy break out the Angry Voice?

After all, a huge part of being a kid is figuring out where the boundaries are. And whether he’s conscious of it or not, that’s part of what he’s doing. The new baby may have something to do with it, or this might just be part of your son’s speech development. It’s always hard to parse things out when they happen soon after a sibling comes along. You can ease that part of your concern by paying him some undivided attention when you can.

If it’s a developmental stage, it will end. So you can try to ride it out as best you can, waiting for his excitement over language to change course. But if that’s too frustrating, try giving him a good, solid affirmation to his first few comments, and then ignore him. If he is indeed testing the limits, he’ll learn that there is one, and that after a certain point, he cannot expect gratification from his chatter. This doesn’t mean that he’ll stop doing it: he may actually realize that it’s fun enough to hear himself talk. Chances are he’ll eventually (not necessarily quickly, but eventually) stop expecting you to respond the same way to every skip on the broken record.

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com


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About Ceridwen Morris

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Ceridwen Morris

Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent.

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11 thoughts on “Speech therapy turned our toddler into a parrot! Help from Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

  1. nowshesatalker says:

    If it makes you feel any better for a looooonnng time this is how my 2-3ish yr old daughter would talk:
    “Mommy ….. uh …. Mommy …. Mommy did you …. Mommy … did you Mommy … MOMMY I want uh … I want I want … MOMMY … I want to ask you … uh ….Mommy, did you get the .. the … the Mommy. … uh Mommy did you get the fruit snacks?”
    About half-way through my ears would start bleeding.
    She 5 1/2 now and got over it.

  2. Ali says:

    He learned in speech therapy that every thing he says gets him positive attention. So he still expects it. So you paid for this to happen. He will stop on his own. Right now he is building new pathways in his brain and he is trying to initiate converation with you. Asking lots of questions is one way kids get people to talk so they can listen and learn to talk themselves. Just wait until he is 4! They ask a million questions then trying to learn vocabulary and phrasing. A crazy but necessary time.

  3. talktalktalk says:

    My son does the same thing. I have found that a simple acknowledgement, like “Yes, that’s right” or “uh-huh,” doesn’t do the trick. Because he’s relatively new at speaking, he looks for confirmation that he has truly been understood. Once I repeat back to him the word or phrase that he used, usually in context (e.g., He says “new truck” and I respond, “That’s right, you are playing with your new truck.”), he smiles and goes on playing.
    I also agree with Ali. I think this is my son’s way of having a conversation with me. He knows that when I talk to other adults, I say a lot more than just “yes” in response to their statements or questions. He just wants to be part of a dialogue.

  4. confuddled says:

    What the heck is up with everyone getting 2 and barely 2 year-olds speech therapy?? Whatever happened to letting a child develop on their own timeline?? I can understand a parent getting some lessons or info on how to promote and facilitate language development, but THERAPY?? I don’t get it.

  5. Paula Hess says:

    Confuddled, our pediatricians ask us to submit an Ages & Stages Questionnaire (online at http://asq.uoregon.edu/) to evaluate whether there is a significant delay in our son’s development.  In my son’s case, he was 43% delayed in the area of expressive language.  He could sign a few signs, but he couldn’t say any words and he was getting increasingly frustrated. 
    Most of the therapy fees were covered by the state through the Early Intervention program of Child & Family Services, but we did have to pay $200 a month.  I am extremely grateful that my pediatrician urged us to be proactive about his verbal skills.  Yes, it was costly.  Yes, his new skills can be annoying at times.  We’re reaping the rewards now, however, with a two-and-a-half year old that is extremely articulate for a child his age.  He has a new love — memorization — because he can remember and accurately repeat back his phone number, his address, his parents’ full names, the alphabet, Spanish phrases, etc.
     – Mrs. Wannacracker

  6. Not an expert says:

    Thomas the Tank Engine references and excessive echolalia? I know I have some preconceived notions because I teach kids with autism, but I sure hope that’s been ruled out by the professionals this mom’s been dealing with. I have seen a lot of both in my work with autistic children.

  7. Paula Hess says:

    Yes, autism was ruled out.  That’s why we sought the help of professionals in the first place.
     – Mrs. Polly W.

  8. More Anon says:

    Oh, good heavens. This is what two-year-olds who are learning to talk DO. (We have twin 2yos right now, so I know whereof I speak!) I have found that they really like it if you echo back what they say, usually with embellishments so they can learn something new. “Mama! Sam saw flag!” “Sam saw flag? How many flags?” “Sam saw .. two … flag.” “Sam see big flag?” “Sam see bif flag!” “Wow, Sam saw two big flags!” “Sam saw .. two bif flag!” … and that usually takes care of it. Sam moves on to something else, and there you go. (BTW, if you don’t give any mindspace and annoyance to it, you can soon do this echoing thing in your sleep.) But fwiw, I think it’s entirely normal. The onus is on the *parent* to respect this phase and deal with it. Your kid is learning to play the symphony of language. If he were practicing piano over and over, you’d be happy! So let him practice his speech. You don’t have to answer back every single thing he says.

  9. Maegan says:

    Sounds like a smart kid who is enjoying learning to talk. Our son has been talking like crazy since about 15 months and now he rhymes and repeats his favorite phrases of the day. It’s like a bunch of inside jokes for us. It’s another form of play. Play!

  10. mom of broken record says:

    My daughter is 2 & 1/2. Right now she is obsessed with the movie “Horton hears a who”. Her favourite character is the mayor. Consequently, my daughter talks about the mayor of who-ville about a hundred times a day. While we are thrilled to be raising a very vocal child, I am sick of hearing about the mayor! Her favourite question is: “Momma, can I be the mayor?” Me: “Sure honey” Her: “If I’m the mayor, who could you be?”. It’s cute the first time, but every 5 minutes is not ok!
    I love her and I’m sure she will grow out of this repetitive stage but I might have to destroy that dvd!

  11. Wendy Coslovich says:

    lol My sweet daughter does the same. She says Mum over and over and then tells me what Thomas did and tells me about the garbarge truck (pronouned @uck) and then asks me something over and over until I lose it. I liked the suggestions of acknowledging what they say and repeating it back to them. I will try that as heading for loony bin at this rate.

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