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My daughter is 20 months old and quite the talker. However, she doesn't understand the concept of pronouns (understandable since it's an abstract concept) and thinks that the word "you" always refers to her. For example, when she wants us to read her a book, she'll say, "Read to you." I'll correct her by instructing her to say, "Read to me." She'll then say, "Read to me," but will later go back to "Read to you".

Other than being persistent with my correction, are there strategies that can help her see the difference between "me" and "you"?

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    This might be useful. In general telling a kid that they're saying something wrong is not as educative as telling them how to say it correctly, as it seems you are, or showing them examples. youtu.be/a7Un06tDOn0 Introducing other people to allow more varied usage of pronouns will be useful.
    – greduan
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 11:16
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    Not necessarily a teaching strategy, but you might enjoy Sesame Street's work on the topic: youtube.com/watch?v=-ahqB3HFv-E
    – dbmag9
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 12:42
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    My daughter would say "Daddy, hee-doo", when she wanted me to hold her, because I would always ask, "do you want me to hold you". Just enjoy how absolutely cute and adorable it is. She'll suddenly correct it one day, and you might cry that your little girl is growing and changing.
    – user43776
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 19:35
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    For what it's worth, a 20-month old doesn't analyse language the way you do anyway. What you think of as "seeing the difference between me and you", she will experience as "saying the right word". She's some ways off conceiving that "me" and "you" are nominative and accusative declensions of 'the same' pronoun. Not just that she doesn't know those big words: she doesn't need those explicit concepts to learn to speak English. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 15:26
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    @SteveJessop: Maybe you should ask your parents for a refresher course ;-)
    – psmears
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 16:14

4 Answers 4

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Oh sweet memories! We had the same (very temporary) situation. As first time parents, we tried the “hand gestures accompanying the words” approach and yes, we also had the adorable me-you-confusion.

The breakthrough came when we simply increased the circle of participants: Mom, Dad and baby, sitting together and when both parents did the <“me” plus hand gesture to self> and the <“you” plus pointing to someone else in the circle> it “clicked” in no time.

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    My 2.5 year old understands you and me now, but not necessarily "he/him, she/her". We get sentences like "I want to cuddle he". He offended a 5 year old girl by using male pronouns for her! Oh and "my" instead of "I". Lots and lots of practice and modelling and just talking to them and they'll get the idea!
    – R Davies
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 9:02
  • Different child; same story. Can confirm.
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 4:32
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Do Nothing! (Except continue to speak correctly yourself.)

It will correct itself in time. It's the miracle of language acquisition.

Sweet memories of my own daughter's learning curve: "Uh" used to mean "I want". As in "Uh uppy" when she wanted to be picked up. Annother: "what" cleverly substituted for "that" during the stage she couldn't pronounce "th". The famous quote: "I have a mole what itches," which turned out to be a tick! My favorite grammatical wackiness: "Him got hims clothes on." You can see her working out the details of subjective, objective and possessive pronouns, without quite having it right yet.

Ah, sweet times.

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As pointed in the other answer, the situation is not uncommon. It reflects the child's early experiences: e.g., you can easily imagine the world of a toddler who refers to every woman as either aunt or grandma, depending on whether they are in their teens or not. Similarly, a child could use the name of the family dog to describe all animals or, on the contrary, use a general term dog as meaning the family pet.

As child grows their vocabulary diversifies and eventually becomes more nuanced. The parents, of course, can try to help this diversification by exposing the child to more people, more experiences, and simply using more varied language themselves.

More specific to you vs. me: It is not uncommon for children to refer to themselves by third place pronouns he/she/him/her (because the adults often speak to a child in this language and/or speak about the child while in front of the child) or by their name or their nickname. That your child uses read to you rather than read to Jane or read to the baby might reflect how you communicate with her.

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Fascinatingly, this is so common that it happens even in sign languages, where the words for “I” and “you” are literally pointing in the appropriate direction. Deaf toddlers have been known to point at a parent to mean “I” and at themselves to mean “you”.

As such, I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s normal. Just model the language, and the child will pick it up in time.

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