Why does my child mix up "I" and "you?"

Your child may be so great at imitating what you say that he hasn't grasped the idea that “I” and “you” must change. Sometimes switching words and perspective is tricky!

“I” and “it” are typically the first pronouns to emerge, between 12 and 26 months. “You” often comes a little bit later, but tends to emerge by 30 months. If your child is approaching 3 and struggling with these concepts, try out these strategies!

1. Add gestures! For example, put your hand on yourself or point at yourself and say “I” and have your child put hand on self and say “I.” If working on “you,” then exaggerate a big point toward the other person saying “you” (don’t be shy, stretch out your entire arm and be silly). Have your child do the same!

2. Try not to explain one word by using the other word. You might think you're helping by explaining the pronouns, but it could backfire! Think about it "When I say "I" it means mommy, but when YOU say I, it means YOU." that could be a confusing mess in your little one's ears.

3. Put the pronoun into a simple game such as rolling a ball or stacking a block. On each turn you will combine the exaggerated word and gesture with the action. For example, “I roll” (pat yourself). For many children, it is most helpful if you focus on only one pronoun at a time. So for now, perhaps you only practice “I roll” and not use “you roll” quite yet. If you have another adult present, have them sit behind your child; this way, he/she can help your child gesture and say the phrase (“I roll”) from his perspective.

4. Make it enticing! Does your child have a favorite snack? Do they live for running and crashing into a stack of empty boxes? Whatever it is they love, use it! Here's how: Ask a simple question, "Who eats the cracker?". When your child says "I eat" you show that NOW you know who should eat the cracker and give it to your child. If they don't respond you can say something along the lines of "Daddy eat? Nooooo" and help your child gesture to self and verbally cue him/her with "I eat."

5. Keep practicing in new ways. Add to what you just taught them by expanding into other phrases. “I’m mommy” (patting yourself). Now, help your child correctly gesture as he says the reverse “I’m Joey”(patting or pointing to self). If playing with blocks, you may say “I want blue” and your child can practice saying “I want red.”

* When your child starts to use “I” solidly. Switch your focus to “you.” Perhaps your child has more trouble with "me" rather than "I;" in that case, you can use the same strategies.

Be patient! Pronouns can be difficult to learn, but your persistence will pay off!

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