We’ve all said it a million times to our kids: “Use your words!” And for toddlers especially, there’s something magical that happens when they can finally put language to events. Not all words are created equal though, and it’s important to consider which words will give them the most powerful tools to use to express their feelings and needs.
Functional words, or words that can help them communicate through everyday life (think: asking for more food, signaling they want to play, or telling you they’re thirsty) can actually help your toddler avoid some of their dreaded meltdowns that occur when they don’t know just how to communicate.
Teaching your toddlers these words will take some time, of course, but once they’ve learned a few of these important words, you’ll both benefit. These 10 smart words and phrases can make parenting and toddler-ing so much easier.
What is functional language?
Functional language is just what it sounds like – common words and phrases that help a child navigate throughout his or her day. Functional language will allow your child to express their feelings and communicate their needs clearly, which means less frustration and fewer meltdowns (fingers crossed!).
Why is it important for toddlers to learn functional language?
Teaching functional language gives your child useful words and phrases to say when asking for help or telling you what they want. Not to mention, these foundational words are the building blocks for more advanced language and phrases as they get older. Learning functional language can also help your child feel more confident and independent, as they’ll see right away that the correct word or phrase helps them communicate what they want – and it can also help to reduce frustration.
10 helpful functional words
Here are some of the best functional words to teach your child, how to model them, and why each one makes sense during the toddler years.
“No” These two simple words may seem obvious, but learning about choice is an important basic concept for a toddler. Demonstrate both of these words by addressing things like safety concerns (“No running by the pool!”) or by fulfilling an easy request (“Yes, I can give you more hugs!”).
“Stop” This functional word helps a child communicate that they wish to halt an action. But it’s also critical if they’re about to get into trouble and you need them to stop doing something. You can also model this word by giving them a warning, such as “Please stop hitting the dog.”
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“Help” Perhaps they can’t reach a toy, they dropped their cup, or are tangled up in their sweatshirt: Ask if they need “help” and then step in to assist so they can see the word in action.
“All done” Teaching your child “all done” will allow them to communicate when they’re full or done eating, they’ve finished using the potty, or completed a task. You can demonstrate this by say “all done” when you have finished your own tasks – or when you notice they have finished a meal.
“More” The word “more” will allow your child to ask for something additional they want. You can say the word “more” when offering another sip of water or a second helping of pasta. “More” is often easier to teach because the concept is super visual (after all, they’re getting more of something they already have), and it’s usually very apparent.
“Up” Teach “up” when you see your toddler needing to be picked up, they want to get up on the jungle gym, or they’re begging to be lifted onto the couch. It might even replace whining in some instances.
“Eat” Practice “eat” by motioning to your mouth when you’re eating and you’ll teach your little one that it’s time for a meal. They can use it to let you know they’re hungry and it might even prevent them from getting “hangry!”
“Drink” Hydration is important for toddlers as they’re typically on the go most of the day. Use the word “drink” when you offer them a cup so they pick it up quickly.
- “Love” This is the best one of all! Say “love” to your significant other when you hug or kiss them, and encourage your child to express love for their little brother, stuffed toy, or even a favorite snack.