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
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.
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