I have an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old son. It seems that the younger is growing up more slowly than the older one did. For instance, he doesn't speak yet, he walked late in comparison with his brother, same for his teeth growth. They always say that it is natural, each child and his growing rhythm.

My question is about his strange behavior. We know very well that he knows a lot of things and that he understands well when we speak to him, but he pretends he does not understand what we say. As a consequence, he ignores us when we speak to him, mainly his mother.

Why is he behaving this way and what should we do with him?

  • How can you tell he is pretending ? – Arsak May 18 '18 at 16:50

The first thing that comes to mind is that your son learned he doesn't have to do unpleasant things if he pretends not to understand. So "Do you want a cookie?" gets a response, "Don't touch the glass!" doesn't. It might even be a certain tone of voice (for example, the one your wife uses when she wants him to do something) that's become a cue for him to ignore whatever is said.

This should be fairly easy to check, since the pattern becomes obvious when you consider what he likes and doesn't like. You can also test it by presenting him with two options he likes and let him pick which one he wants. Start simple, for example hold up two plates so he can't see what's on them, tell him there are cookies on the one plate (demonstratively look at that plate) and icecream on the other plate (look at the other plate), then let him point at the one he wants. Substitute his favorites (can be toys too) for the cookies and icecream of course.

If he responds clearly to this (when he's motivated), it's likely he doesn't see the need to listen or talk to get what he wants. So stop giving him what he wants until he "speaks" to you and listens to you. He will likely get angry and frustrated at this sudden change, but if you are consistent he will learn the new way to get what he wants before long.

If he doesn't respond, I would advise you to investigate further. Can he hear you well? Does he react to sounds behind him? Does he make eye contact when you promise him (cookies) and follow your gaze when you tell him where the (cookies) are? That kind of interaction should already be there, long before speaking. Also, how does he express his needs to you in general?

If you have any doubts, ask a professional.


It's good to consider any challenges such as hearing or a neurological issue, but barring those I highly recommend you take a Love & Logic parenting class and use the power of empathetic consequences. Use its "uh oh" song for toddlers as appropriate.

  • I know it's been a while, but what is a "Love & Logic class" ? And what is the "uh oh song"? – Arsak May 18 '18 at 16:52
  • I've made some edits, does that help? – Ready To Learn May 18 '18 at 17:07
  • Yes, thank you! Could you maybe expand your answer and describe the basic concepts of L&L and how this approach would be of help? – Arsak May 18 '18 at 17:17

Consult with your pediatrician. You want to get his hearing tested, if his hearing is fine you may want to have him tested for developmental delays, which can signify Autism. I say this to you because we had the same experience with my son. If this is the case and I pray that your child is fine, it is better to identify such delays early. If your doctor is not in agreement and you still have concerns get a second opinion. All the best.

  • Considering his hearing ability, i'm sure he is okay since he responds for other tips as syrus said in his answer. – Karim Dahmani May 28 '16 at 11:25
  • Ok no problem, I am glad you were able to figure it out. – Leah Williams May 28 '16 at 11:33

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