Wednesday, March 27, 2013


My daughter has reached that exciting but frustrating stage where her mental development has outstripped her verbal skills and physical abilities. In other words, she’s in the pointing and grunting stage. Since 20% of her vocabulary is comprised of the words “hat” and “shoes,” it’s rare that she is able to say the name of an object she wants. (Granted, about 50% of the time what she wants IS a hat or a shoe, but that still leaves about 49% of the time when she doesn’t have the necessary word at her disposal.) She knows what she wants but is often not able to get it herself, and struggles to communicate verbally with others to get them to help her get it. She’s in the age of charades.

She’s actually quite creative in how she expresses her wants. If she wants something to drink, for example, she has a whole arsenal of techniques to let me know. If she has a sippy cup that she’s finished, she holds it up in my general direction and shakes it. If she’s in the kitchen, she goes to the counter where the cups are and reaches up over the edge in an attempt to knock one down. If she succeeds, she brings it to me and shows me that it’s empty (usually accompanied by a woeful expression and a sad, “Uh-oh!”). If she can’t reach a cup, she comes to find me, takes my hand (well, technically, my thumb), and leads me to the refrigerator, then looks at me expectantly. If I still don’t get it, she grabs onto the handle of the refrigerator door and tugs with all her might.

If she wants something that she can see but can’t quite reach, she also has several techniques in her arsenal. The most common are the crab-pincers and the point-and-grunt. If an object is almost within reach, she uses the crab pincers. She has developed a great fondness for jelly beans this Easter season, so if she walks up to the piano, reaches up, and flaps her hand open and closed like a little crab’s claw, I can be sure she wants a jelly bean from the dish that lives up there, and not a closer look at a framed photo or a piece of sheet music, which are the only other objects in that general vicinity.
And if she’s strapped in her high chair and there’s a toy that’s just out of reach, the crab pincers aimed in that direction are enough to indicate what she wants.

If the item is a bit further away, or if it’s part of a group of objects, she does the classic toddler point-and-grunt and waits for me to guess what she means. If she wants a toy that’s inside her playpen, she’ll lead me over, point at something, and then look at me with a quizzical expression and a grunt. So I begin showing her different objects: “Phone? Lamb? Truck? Baby? Giraffe? Beads?” At each wrong answer, she chirps, “Noooo!” in an increasingly annoyed voice, and stabs again with her extended index finger. It reminds me of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” when the Ghost forces a reluctant Ebenezer Scrooge to look at his own gravestone.
(She’s not very intimidating, so it’s definitely the Mr. Magoo version that comes to mind.)
The complication in this scenario is that since she doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on what the word “no” actually means, even when I show her the item she wants, I’d better be watching her instead of just listening to her response because she will say “no” even when she means “yes.”
At times it can be frustrating for both of us, but most of the time we both see it as a game, a creative challenge, and a fun problem to be solved. Plus, when we do it right, sometimes we both get a jelly bean.

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