Diary of a Nonverbal 2-Year-Old: Dealing with Frustrations


We all know every kid is different. It’s one of those phrases we throw around, but one we, as parents, also believe in. (It’s a phrase that also helps to appease the disagreeing family members or friends who aren’t totally up on the way you’ve decided to parent or teach or whatever.)

I think this idea though, that kids are each born with different thoughts and temperaments, really, really hits home when you’ve had your second child. And that second child steps out of babyhood and into the (sometimes… or often) terror of toddlerhood.

For as cute as they are, running with legs that haven’t quite gotten this new mode of movement, they are also very, very exhausting. But more than that, their ideas and thoughts have moved away from the simplicities of babyhood (like food and sleep and… even more food) into a more complex world.

I don’t want that banana. I want this one.

(Or strawberry. Or the large piece of chocolate, because seriously, I see what you’re doing giving me that tinsy tiny piece, I’m no idiot.)

They have desires of which train they want and when said, really-cool-train doesn’t stay on the tracks and their fine motor controls still being what they are, they need help to put it back (all wheels on, by the way). Constantly need help.

And when they don’t get what they want?

Oh man. Full on feet stomping, turning in circles. Some screaming. Some hitting. All of it is fair game for the toddler.

Our little ones have suddenly developed these advanced, complex needs and we are left with the daunting task of translating exactly what’s going on in their heads… and if it’s even something we can give them. If it’s not… well, you with kids know exactly what I mean. The word “no” can invite a full-on hurricane in my household.

Now. Imagine all that.

Got it?

Great. Now imagine if you have zero words to get your needs met.


No language, whatsoever.

All you have is your little body, all four limbs, and the screaming, loud-vocals which you were born with. Imagine too, that child growing bigger, their needs getting more complex (I want to watch this movie on Netflix but Mom is clearly not a mind-reader and I still have no words).

For Kate, she saw the language barrier as one giant puzzle. How did Kate get to watch the Tinker Bell movie she wanted (and there are a fair few) that she knew was only on Netflix? She asked to be picked up (raising her arms) while standing underneath the movie shelf. Grabbed the Peter Pan Blu-ray, pointed at the Tinker Bell on the cover. Asked to be put down (body language again), rushed to the remote control that had a red button for Netflix and pointed to it.

And we knew what she wanted.

Tinker Bell on Netflix.

Her nonverbal cues were off-the-charts amazing. I mean, people still ask me how I would know what she wanted. I could only blink at them and say, quite honestly, “She told me.”

And she did. Every time.

I mean, it wasn’t always a cake-walk (I think my memory here is being protective and removing the super-hard parts and just sort of glossing it all over in a dull haze). But really, I was always very in tune with her. We were connected. Her pointing at certain things, the context we were living in at that moment, I just knew. Mostly because I was willing to listen… not with my ears, because again, no words, but with every other piece of my being.

For Kate, it was a puzzle, one that she loved to solve.

For Eric… ah… his patience is no where near hers. And he still has very complex, very specific things that he wants. And, like any two-year-old, has zero patience waiting.

Fun. Times.

Two kids. Both late-talkers.

Totally different temperaments.

With Eric, I will need to teach him to be clearer, any kind of little movement forward, to help ease that frustration. He needs to learn that when he is more clear, he gets what he wants faster.

That doesn’t make this an easy time because it’s really, really not.

Right now, when Eric is frustrated, when he doesn’t get what he wants or when something doesn’t go his way (his sister took a toy he wanted or, he was trying to carry a half-dozen rubber eggs and one after another tumbles out from his arms), he runs over to me, and hits me.


Hits me.

It’s not a hard hit, but believe me, his intent is clear (especially when he runs clear across the room to do it, ignoring both Daddy and Kate to zero-in on me). And when I hold his hands, he tries to get some kicks in.

And it’s super frustrating.

Here I am, trying to follow a compassionate, peaceful way of parenting, and there’s this giant language barrier that’s creating this frustration in my son. Two-year-olds are often frustrated and they have giant emotions. That’s their stage in development, they should act this way. But when there’s no easing of this because he can’t communicate in a way he needs… it’s extra frustrating.

I can recognize that. I can see and understand what’s causing this situation. He’s feeling frustrated and this is how it physically manifests itself. What his needs are depend on the situation (like help putting his train back up).

I also know that how I’m acting is the right approach even if it doesn’t feel like we’re making progress. I hold his hands, to keep me safe. It also helps keep my own temper in check, because really, getting hit is one of the fastest ways to “flip my lid” as they say in nonviolent communication circles, which is when I revert back to the reptilian part of my brain of fight or flight. Not that I’m perfect and I never yell. Oh believe me, with as a little sleep as I’m getting these days, sometimes my goal is just to get to bedtime as peacefully and centered as I can.

Outings? Working on speech? Yeah, no. How about I just try to keep myself from losing my shit?

Ok. Back to the real question: what the heck do I do about Eric’s frustrations?

Honestly… I’m still working on it.

I know what I’m doing is in the right vein because it feels right. It feels inline with who I want to be as a parent. But am I being as effective as I can be?

Probably not.

In fact, I’m going to ask for help on this.

Sometimes it’s easier to know what not to do. Example, if I tell him, “Don’t hit me.” Guess which part he hears? Yeah. You guessed it. “Hit me.”

I also want to be careful about shaming him, making him feel guilty. Like, “You hurt me.” (I’m not going to go into this too deeply. It’s something I’ve learned/learning from different parenting resources. I think I’ll list those at the end for anyone interested).

I also know that when I tell Eric, “This doesn’t work for me,” is the wrong thing to say. There’s just too many words for him to understand. I need to keep my message simple, like: “Ouch. Hurts.”

I know to show this in my face (if I can get him to look at me… sometimes he knows darn well what he’s done and the last thing he wants is to meet me eye-to-eye about it).

But… this still doesn’t solve the real piece in there.

His frustrations.

He has needs that aren’t being met, and it’s compounded because he doesn’t have language to express himself (or to even listen to me). Eric’s expressive language (which is the talking part) and his receptive (which is the listening and understanding part), are different than most kids. That means I need to find a way to work with him in a way that he understands.

Talk about a challenge, right?

To change the behavior (which is him hitting me), I need to address his actual need. To stop him feeling so frustrated, I need to address the real thing that’s going on.

Yep. A challenge.

It’s like putting on a funny-looking hat, squinting my eyes and telling myself that I totally can read someone else’s mind.

Which… I can’t.

Except… I can. Sorta.

The first step is really figuring out his feelings (which are pretty clear: FRUSTRATED). Then, if I need, which I usually do, I look over at this list here (https://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory). It’s super, super helpful to identify even what I’m needing (and often, not getting).

When Eric’s frustrated about his trains… he might be needing support or warmth or closeness from me or competence (in himself). If I’m in a centered place (and not the raving banshee I’ve been lately due to extreme sleep deprivation), I can calmly sit with him and support him as he plays with the trains in the way that he wants.

Frustrations and emotions are literally just what’s going on right now. It’s where he’s at developmentally and it’s compounded because he has zero words. Poor guy can’t even hell “NO!”

The other day I bought him a ball at Target, and guess what? He had a complete meltdown because he wanted all of them. (Which, clearly, he wasn’t going to get.) So, I did the best I could. Moved him away from the constant reminder of all the balls he didn’t have, knelt with him and tried to hold him and share in those big emotions. I didn’t try to hurry him through them. I didn’t care about all the looks I was getting (believe me, I was getting a fair few). I stayed with him, as long as I could (remember too, sleep-deprived me is also not up to my best standards), and let him feel that disappointment.

He eventually calmed down enough so we could pay and leave. Sometimes, that’s the best I can do. Get through it, and move on. Other times I have more energy to give and I can feel myself be connected, and I can take the time to be with him through these big emotions.

So… I know that I’m on the right path. I know what needs to be done, even if only to some degree and not the whole picture. But I have people I can reach out to for help and guidance. Because every kid is different, what worked for Kate won’t necessarily work for Eric. And what worked for one child, who has words, they have a lot more leeway when it comes to bargaining or problem-solving to find a solution that fits for both parent and child.

I can’t do that yet.

What I can do is help Eric with his frustrations, allow himself to feel those big, huge emotions, in a way that’s acceptable and safe. And somehow, I need to start helping him to understand that the clearer he can be, with his nonverbal cues, the faster he can get what he wants (and be less frustrated).

This particular post, is going to be a work-in-progress because I don’t yet know the full solution. Maybe their won’t ever be one. At least, not the right and complete one.

Still though, I’m working towards what I want, as a parent. I’ll figure this out, and as I do I’ll share because I know I’m not alone. I know there are many parents of late-talkers who deal with behavior problems that are no where near to even what Eric and I are working through. And maybe, what I learn along the way, can help others understand. And if you’ve got a language-typical child, I also know that their language goes out the window when these big toddler-emotions take control and the screaming and flaying limps begins.

Parenthood is a journey, whether we have language or not. It’s wonderful and joyful, and it can also be very, very frustrating. For everyone. Us, and our kids.

Here’s hoping this is my first step in easing that one, small piece of toddlerhood.


As I mentioned, here are some amazing resources that I’ve used on my parenting journey. There are many more, and many still sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. I’ve discovered this approach, to being open instead of closed off and (for lack of a better word) authoritarian, has been immensely helpful with my late-talkers. This is not at all to say you’re a bad parent if you choose differently. We are all different, as families and as individuals. I’m sharing to say: here is another way. I’ll be blogging about this even more in the future, even though I am still, very much, learning. I am, by no way, an expert.

But as promised, here’s some resources:

Michelle Charfen teaches some amazing classes. She also has a TedTalk about self-acceptance and her journey into parenthood. I highly recommend watching. http://michellecharfen.com


Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel. This is one of the first books I read, and the journaling he recommends, and it was amazing and an eye-opening self-reflection to why I was parenting the way I was, and why my kids have this amazing ability to trigger my buried emotions.

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham

2 thoughts on “Diary of a Nonverbal 2-Year-Old: Dealing with Frustrations

  1. I don’t know whether it can help since all children are different and mine were more on the side of early-talkers. But we’ve had quite a lot of success with teaching them sign language. It allowed them to express themselves more easily, and really limited their frustration when they were finally able to make us understand what they meant.

    Of course, they didn’t express their emotions that way, but even being able to express simple things like eat or water or more (great sign this one! probably the most used one in our household!) or sleep REALLY made a difference in their general well-being. Once they saw that they could trust us to understand them for those simple things, they tried expressing themselves with more complex concepts. Just like your daughter “telling” you what she wants non-verbally. She invented some sign language herself. But if your boy doesn’t invent it himself, maybe you could teach him some, so that he can use it if he wants to.

    And the fact that they used some sign language didn’t mean that they learned to speak later (which is a concern you might hear from other parents). They just used it when it was easier for them to move their hands than to move the subtle muscles involved in the oral language. But when they acquired the necessary fine-motor control for speech, they switched to speech since it allowed them to express so many more words (and we always used both languages whenever we were using sign language).

    Anyway, I hope it can help. It did help us and our kids.

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate your taking the time to write what worked for you.

      We’ve had an interesting experience with sign language. We had tried using it with Kate but because of her crazy stubborn temperament she straight-up refused whenever we tried it. That said… at some point she picked up the sign for “all done.” Now, I’m still not sure if it’s the official one but it’s a movement she picked out and would use. Eric, at an early age, maybe like 15 months? Started mimicking her with this, especially if he was in the swings and was all done. He continues to use it, mostly when we have him on the potty and he “tells” us that he’s all done.

      So, it’s not like we have zero use of sign language, but he’s also *very* stubborn like Kate. He will only do this sign when he’s in the mood, when his little brain decides now is an acceptable time to do it. All we can do is mimic the action and the word back; it’s up to him to pick it back up again.

      That said, it’s certainly an area that we can explore again. My kids very much march to their own drums, but reintroducing signs, seeing how he responds, going with what felt feels right, that’s really all the best we can do. Try and try again, right?

      Thank you again for such a thoughtful response!

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