Conversation Breakdown {The Two-Year-Old Version}.

The first time I wrote this post, Sara rejected it like any good English teacher would. The post lacked focus and a thesis. I’d argue that my blogging style {which is whimsical, out of focus, and thought-jumpy} is as much my signature as is her choice to forget how to press the shift key. However, she’s the boss and she wins, so three…two…one…focus!


Lionel talks. A LOT. I have no idea what’s normal conversation or word knowledge for a two-year-old, but I have this feeling that Lionel’s vocabulary is relatively impressive. My feelings are backed up by the comments and compliments that are often received from friends, family and complete strangers. Lionel knows a lot of words. What’s even better is that Lionel, in my opinion, knows the context of how most of these words are supposed to be used; however, I don’t believe he understands all the words that’s he’s using.

I have taken child development and child psychology courses throughout my many years of study, and there’s sufficient proof that talking and reading to your child is a great way to develop their language and communication skills. However, I don’t remember reading about what parents could/should/shouldn’t do when communication breaks down between an adult and a two-year-old. Conversation breakdowns with a child are confusing for me to navigate, and I think it’s equally confusing and frustrating for Lionel as well.

Last week {when I was originally writing this post}, I told the story of having breakfast with Lionel. One day last week, I was standing in the kitchen, trying to encourage Lionel to tell me what he wanted to eat for breakfast. To set the stage: each morning, I pick Lionel out of bed because he’s about as good as his parents at jumping out of bed (we like to hit the snooze). I then place him in his seat at the table and promptly say “Good morning!” I then ask about his dreams (the kid dreams like his mama – vivid and random), and then I ask him about breakfast. It’s part of our routine.

However, the question about breakfast turned into a battle that morning. On this day, I offered Lionel the typical choices – Frosted Flakes, jelly toast, or peanut butter toast. He responds “no” to all of them. I asked him again to tell me what he wants. He then picks one of the choices that I presented, and I’m pretty sure he chose the last option that I offered: toast.

But, when I start to grab for the bread to make toast, he shrieks, “NO toast!”

I then calmly rolled through the choices again. As I did, I noticed that as I continued to offer food options, my voice was getting tense, despite my best efforts. The clock stared at me:  I was running late, Lionel still needed to eat, and Sara was still sleeping.

Then, he said, “Watch Elmo.”

Our communication had broken down, so he returned to his favorite, frequent comfort statement. He knows he likes Elmo, and he’ll be satisfied if he gets the iPad to watch Elmo. This told me that breakfast had become stressful for Lionel.

I quit asking him questions for a moment as I tried to process the interaction. Our breakfast conversation wasn’t a negative exchange of words by any means, but it wasn’t a positive experience. I had a conversation with a two-year-old child who knows how to hold a conversation, but it became clear in that moment that he didn’t understand every word or phrase that he was using. That was frustrating, both to him and to me.

I denied Lionel’s request for Elmo and disengaged for another second while I set us both up with some cereal.

I then watched as he happily ate his entire bowl of cereal, not a complaint in sight.

Parenting a two-year-old is ever-changing and really interesting. I love talking with Lionel, and talking through conversations with him. But, I think there’s times when what originates as a positive interaction can turn into a negative one. For instance, when I get home from work at night and I ask him about his day, I have all night for him to process the words that he needs to communicate to me. In the morning, I have about 90 seconds. Despite his wealth of understanding, I can’t have the same conversation at the crack of dawn with Lionel that I could have Sara or with friends. It just doesn’t work – yet.

So, with one additional week’s perspective on the interactions that I’ve been having with Lionel, I’m realizing this: if I have time for Lionel to make decisions, I let him make the decisions. But, if we’re pressed for time, I make the decisions for him, like many parents do. And since following this general idea, our interactions have gone more smoothly.

With his expansive vocabulary and voice inflection, it is really easy to forget that Lionel is just two years old. He says some of the funniest and goofiest things, and he is consistently surprising me with what he knows and understands. But, he’s still just two, and he’s still learning.

Or maybe he just stinks at waking up like his parents do.

About Jord

jord considers himself nerdy, mostly because he's a devoted gamer and freelance web designer. he works in computer technology and information services, but he'd be most proud to tell you that he recently built himself a computer, loves audio books, trying new beer and wine, grilling, and is so excited to have added "homeowner" to his list of titles.
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