Does your toddler have trouble understanding “no” and “not”?
Standard language development milestones for understanding “no” and “not” reveal an infant should understand the word “no” between 6 and 9 months of age. However, sometimes parents don’t have the opportunity to say “no” to their 9 month old, especially if their baby isn’t crawling and getting into mischief!
While understanding “no” and “not” in sentences should technically be achieved between 36 and 41 months, clearly understanding negatives at an earlier age is critical for safety purposes, and general life. Doesn’t your three year old need to understand he should NOT go into the street by himself? How will you set limits if your toddler doesn’t understand “no more cookies,” or “It is not time to play with the iPad”?
If your toddler is having trouble understanding negatives, try some of the ideas in this blog. Initially, emphasize “not” or “no,” and provide a visual cue by shaking your head “no”:
1. Make Play-doh cupcakes for a birthday party. Talk about how the birthday boy does not want broken candles in his cupcakes! Hand your child one random candle at a time from a bag containing broken and intact candles. Label the candles: “broken” or “not broken,” and hopefully your child will imitate, and later carryover your models independently.
2. In a Memory game, take 10 pairs of picture cards your child can easily label. Have your child pick up a card (e.g., butterfly). If the next card he picks up is different, encourage him to label it “not a butterfly” or “not a match.”
3. Read books with your child that include “no” and “not.” Again, be sure to emphasize the negatives:
But No Elephants
I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato
Do Donkey’s Dance?
I Am Not Going To Get Up Today!
No No, Jo!
But Not The Hippopotamus
The Cat in the Hat
That is NOT a Good Idea
Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar? (Not me! Couldn’t be!)
No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed! – Change the rhythm of the song to avoid singing the lyrics in a rote manner.
5 A. Choose two types of objects your toddler loves. For example, cars and construction trucks. First, review the names of the different types of construction vehicles, and only use the construction vehicles he can easily label (e.g., cement mixer, crane, dump truck, bulldozer). Hold up one car in one hand, and one truck in the other, and ask your child to show you which one is NOT a cement mixer (or car, or a crane, etc.).
B. Select favorite, familiar action figures or pictured characters to earn your child’s interest (pictures may be more difficult than objects). For example: Elmo, Dora, Cookie Monster, Mickey Mouse, R2-D2, Spider-Man, etc. Hold up two characters: “Which one is NOT Elmo?”
C. Move onto using everyday objects (e.g., brush, cup, pen, spoon, shoe) and do the same.
6. If you need to simplify task #5, try using two of the same objects that only have one thing different. For example, one foot with a shoe, the other without. One bowl with soup, the other without. One stroller with a baby, the other without. Ask: “Which stroller has no baby?” To expand this task, try practicing with “What’s Different” pictures, where your toddler can find multiple things that are “not” the same.
7. Try Superduper’s Understanding Negation playing cards.
8. Look at “What’s Wrong” pictures. The picture may show rain falling inside the house. Comment: “There is NO rain in a house!”
9. Play Pop-Up Pirate – I often change the character in this game to suit the interest of the child. Yesterday, we used “Boots” from Dora the Explorer. Each time we pushed a sword into the barrel we stated: “Boots did NOT pop out”…until he surprises us and jumps out of the barrel.
If you are concerned about your child’s ability to understand negatives and follow directions, the most important first step is to have your child’s hearing formally tested in a sound proof booth with an audiologist. This is a hearing test vs. the hearing screening your child may have received at the pediatrician’s office.
If a hearing issue is ruled out, and you remain worried about your toddler’s comprehension skills, please email Stephanie Sigal M.A. CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stephanie works with children in their NYC, Upper East Side homes. You can lean more about Stephanie on her website.