Can you do Unparenting with a child who isn’t talking yet?

Although Unparenting is all about communication, it’s not about memorizing some phrases from a book to use on your little one that they won’t understand anyway. It’s a whole new approach. It’s about seeing your children as team players ready to share their world with you. Over time you learn to listen to each other, be more perceptive to each other, and look for shared solutions you can both be happy with.

Myth: My little one can’t say anything to me yet

More than one parent has sighed after a long day of their child’s tears and thought, “I can’t wait until she’s older and can tell me what she wants.” Does that sound familiar? Do you wish your little one would start talking? The good news is you don’t have to wait. Little ones “talk” to us all the time, they just don’t use words to do it.

Communication does not mean talking

Communication is more than just talking in words. Humans (even baby ones) also communicate with tears or laughter, tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and in how they act and what they do.

This nonverbal communication often communicates even more than words.

Think about it:

“Wow, great job!” said in a sincere tone and with a smile.

“Wow, great job!” said in a sarcastic tone and with an eye roll.

What conveys the real meaning? The words? Or the tone of voice and facial expression?

How babies talk

Even babies make facial expressions, gestures, actions and sounds. All of those things are ways of “talking” to you, sharing something with you.

Give it a try. Can you tell what these penguins are saying?

You might not understand the words, but you know what they’re telling each other, right? :) Even without words. You can understand your little one in the same way.

The problem isn’t that little ones can’t talk, but that parents aren’t accustomed to picking up on their nonverbal cues. They wait for little ones to use their words and can easily miss what the little ones are “saying” right now.

And that’s unfortunate because so often it just takes a little effort to communicate with your little one effectively. Many angry or tearful outbursts (and much frustration over not knowing what they want) can then be avoided entirely.

Unparenting teaches you how to start communicating with your baby or toddler and how to pick up on their signals so you can understand each other.

In practice it might look something like this:

We have an 11-month-old son, so working things out with him is still in the early stages, BUT! Just yesterday I took some inspiration from the first lessons in your course and the change was really interesting!

I went ahead and said out loud to my son what I needed right then and what I would like, and I asked him what he would need or want … and he just looked at me, calmed down and started laughing. Ever since then, I’ve been noticing his needs and the signals he gives me more closely. It’s great. Thank you so much!

• Marketa

I changed my mindset from focusing on quieting the baby down to acting like a teammate. I said how I was feeling and asked my 1-month-old secondborn to help me.

He just gave me this mysterious smile. Shocked, I watched him more closely and he showed me exactly what he needed. He called me a few more times and showed me what he needed, not crying anymore but just making noises. Unparenting really knows their stuff! Thank you.

• Veronica

Myth: Babies don’t understand because they can’t talk

In fact, being able to talk has nothing to do with how much they understand. They are tuned in to you in a way that lets them understand you long before they say their first words.

Maybe they hear you like the penguins in the video above. They don’t need to understand your exact words to know what you’re trying to say. They listen to you, your tone of voice, your facial expressions, your mood and your emotions.

Just like you do with your partner or other loved ones. You can tell when they’re upset or stressed out and not in the mood to talk to you even before they say anything. You can tell by their voice, the expression on their face, or the way they act. They might even say, “I’m fine, dear, nothing’s wrong,” but you can tell something is off, because the words aren’t everything.

Young children are even more sensitive in this regard than adults, because before they can communicate in words this is all they have. As soon as parents tune in and respond to them in turn, they start seeing that their little one understands much more than they thought.

My 9-month-old and I worked things out so she’s not scared of the nasal aspirator anymore. She was playing with a singing book while I was talking to her, and it didn’t look like she was paying attention to me at all. I explained everything just the way you describe and she looked up at me with those big blue eyes and waited for me to finish using the aspirator. The next time was the same – as soon as she saw the aspirator, she looked at me and I knew I was okay to use it – understanding and being able to communicate with my baby is an amazing feeling. Thank you for what you do!

• Veronica

I have an 8-month-old son. We’ve started asking which one he wants before sitting him on the potty (we have two kinds). I was pleasantly surprised to find that an 8-month-old can understand, make a decision, and show what he wants. Now he doesn’t cry when he wants to play instead of sitting on the potty. (It’s amazing to watch how he figures out that we’re getting the potty out and he starts wiggling and babbling from when I ask the question to when he makes the decision and points to where he wants to go, and then he goes quiet and is fine.)

• Lucie

Myth: They’re too little to understand

They may be little, but they still have feelings. Our little ones notice how you treat them from a young age, and they learn from those things every day.

They imitate your approach, your tone, and your reactions. Even now they’re learning from you the first sentences you’ll hear them say.

It’s actually pretty simple. If you listen to them, they learn to listen to you. If you don’t listen to them, they learn not to listen to you. If you fight with them, they learn to fight with you. If you lose your temper when something doesn’t go right between you, they learn to lose their tempers when something doesn’t go right for them. And if you say, “No, no, bad girl,” when they do something you don’t like, they learn to say “No,” when you do something they don’t like.

That’s why the approach you take from the very beginning does matter. It’s already deciding how you will get along together in the future. Will your children scream and yell at you, or will they calmly ask for what they need? Will their first words be, “No! No! No! Uh-uh-uh mama!” or “Mama, help”?

I saw changes starting with the very first Unparenting lesson. My 19-month-old son doesn’t throw fits if he doesn’t get his way. He hardly cries anymore and he comes over and hugs me just because. I feel like we understand each other much better now. I hope things continue like this.

• Barbora

It’s a miracle. Since the last big scene last Monday, our little girl hasn’t cried at all, and this is a child who hasn’t gone a day in her life without crying or breaking down over something. My husband and I keep checking on her and looking at each other – how is this possible, she’s changed so much. She’s started cuddling and being super affectionate. Today she came to me and said, “Mommy, snuggle, snuggle.” I was in shock.

She looks at us totally differently now, and when my husband comes home from work she jumps up to hug him. I can’t believe how little it took for our child to transform so completely. Sure, she’ll always be active and full of personality, but now she says “I don’t want to ride in the stroller” instead of screaming and trying to escape like she used to. Now I let her walk and she doesn’t run into the street. When we get in the car, she announces she’ll buckle herself in. I support her, like you advised, and after a minute she says, “Mommy, help.” Amazing.

Getting dressed still takes a while, but at least she’s not screaming the whole time. Thank you all so, so, so much and I can’t wait for the next lessons.

• Lena

Unparenting is easier, not harder, with babies and toddlers

Younger children respond very quickly to Unparenting. They are especially attuned to you at this age, and they haven’t been as exposed to conventional parenting methods as older children. That means they don’t have anything to unlearn and they can get right on board with Unparenting communication.

It comes naturally to them. Because it’s not some dusty theory far removed from real life, but an approach that meets children’s need to understand and be understood by their parents.

Younger children naturally respond according to their developmental and individual capabilities. There will be some things they can do and others they can’t manage yet, and it’s important not to rush them. Just like you don’t push a baby to walk before they can even crawl. You can’t rush child development.

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to explain to your baby what they should do and then they’ll do it every time. The honest communication and perceptiveness to your child’s needs that you are learning in Unparenting will help you listen to each other, tune in to each other’s needs, and in many cases work things out instead of fighting against each other.

Unparenting, you’re the BEST! Well, you’re the second best, right after my little girl, who got on board with my Unparenting ‘game’ so quickly that I never got past the second week because I didn’t need any more (yet? ever?). Right now we’re stress-free. Stress-free mom, stress-free daughter. So thank you again!

• Marie

When I changed my mindset and started asking my 1-year-old daughter more often what she needs, she started using her finger to point at what she wants. She never did that before. Unparenting has opened my eyes to see that even a 1-year-old can “talk.”

• Barbora

Is this too much to expect from a baby?

As mentioned above, Unparenting communication starts with learning to listen to our children, take in what they’re telling us (with or without words), and respond to that. We cover that in the course. It provides the foundation for making sure our communication isn’t too much for our little ones.

We’re not looking to push our little ones into something they aren’t ready for, overburden them or expect them to meet our needs. If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably know that already. Sometimes parents get that impression at first. They read a few stories on our site and think, “I’m doing that with my little one. I explain everything, I say what I need, and they don’t do it.”

These parents often struggle with feeling like there’s something wrong with them or their child since it doesn’t work. They thought they could sit their baby on the floor, or bend over the changing table, tell the baby what was up, and the baby would comply, end of story. But that’s not how it works.

“You do what I say” is not Unparenting

You can’t expect a tiny little baby to do what you say – because that’s what you need – and leave the baby’s needs out of it. You always have to keep in mind what the baby needs as well.

Maybe she can’t wait an hour for you to finish cooking, because she needs Mommy right now. Or he’s not ready to sleep through the night. Every child is different and can change over time. You can’t expect something from a child that goes against their developmental needs.

You can’t pressure them into anything either if you really want to do Unparenting. Because Unparenting is, first and foremost, about understanding between parent and child.

And you can’t force understanding under pressure.

The less you push your little ones to act a certain way, according to your plan, or according to some instruction manual, the more you’ll be surprised at all the times they understand you and meet you halfway. Again – if they’re capable of doing so.

Unparenting isn’t trying to outsmart developmental psychology. Right now your child can do some things, and others they can’t yet, based on their age.

What Unparenting does is add a parent’s heart alongside developmental psychology. Love and intimacy is a magic that can inspire understanding where words fail and willingness to help where it seems impossible. Sometimes a child responds to our request in a totally different way than other children of the same age.

Those are the stories you read here on our site. How a previously tearful baby allowed their nails to be trimmed. How a prickly toddler pulled an action figure out of their mouth when Mommy asked. All these stories are also about how first Mommy or Daddy stopped pushing – on their baby and on themselves to be some sort of “Unparenting star” – and instead tried to pause and listen. That’s always the first step we cover in the course.

What parents say about it:

I’m still in Week 1 of the course, but I’m already seeing some success stories. Pausing and engaging in her world has brought major changes with my little girl (11 months). I lie down and watch her explore everything, try out new movements, and attempt to communicate with me.

I have to say it’s an amazing world and I enjoy stepping into it. I realized how she can lead me through what she needs, and the best was the first time she said “Mama”.

• Pavla

Every day is different now. Of course I’m still tired, sometimes more and sometimes less, but otherwise things are going beautifully with Unparenting and my 19-month-old daughter. We’re real teammates now. We work everything out together. I admire all her reactions and look forward to her insights.

Our communication has really taken off. She’s happy when she sees that I understand what she’s thinking and what she needs. I feel calm and at peace, and suddenly she isn’t fighting me when I’m trying to get her dressed, brush her teeth, put her in the carseat or stroller, put her to bed at night (the last two weeks bedtime has taken 15-30 minutes, when it used to take 1-2 hours).

The important thing is that she knows what I want from her and what’s going to happen and why. I’m also living more in the moment; we’re enjoying each other to the fullest and coming up with games together. It’s amazing. I feel great.

• Monica

I was telling the pediatrician about how I’m having a hard time getting through to my little one, so she told me about this online thing called Unparenting and recommended I get some information from there. It’s great that even our pediatrician recommends this page.

• Vendula

My husband and I are going through the course with the expansion for Little Ones and I’m thrilled at how well it’s working on our son. He’s almost 2 and hasn’t had the easiest time of it since he was born. I just want to say having your child as a teammate really is all about the parents’ approach. Knowing what that means inside you. Not making excuses for why it won’t work, but looking for ways it can work.

Our son was born deaf and believe me, a 2-year-old deaf child can definitely learn to communicate in this “simple” way. Don’t look for obstacles, but opportunities.

• Lucie

How to start

So what do you say? Wouldn’t you rather give it a try with us than keep on discussing in theory whether they understand or not? If so, here’s a tip: Pretend for one week that your little one does understand you, and talk with them accordingly. See if anything changes. You have to talk to them anyway, right, so what’s there to lose changing the tone for a few days?

Worst case scenario, you find out they really don’t understand what you mean. But best case scenario? You discover what a perceptive person your little one is and how well you can learn to communicate with each other.

You can find more inspiration and tips for communicating with little ones (and bigger ones) in our course.