Everyone waits anxiously for their baby’s first words. You probably spent the first months of your baby’s life trying to coach them to call you mama or mommy. It can feel discouraging, then, if your toddler starts stringing together words and they refuse to call you mommy. Your toddler might have any number of reasons for why they don’t call you mama, but most of them are nothing to be concerned about. Here are just a few reasons to consider.
You’re around all the time.
Moms who stay at home or are primary caregivers for their toddlers find it frustrating when it takes longer for their toddler to start addressing them as Mommy (or as anything!). One sociological theory suggests it might be because mom is so close at hand; their toddler never feels the need to address her. After all, they may need to ask where Daddy is, but if mommy is always there when they need her, then they don’t need to worry about calling for her. Toddlers learn words at a slow rate, at least at first, so “Mommy” probably isn’t a priority if they are sure you are close already.
Developing a sense of self.
The bond between mother and baby is especially strong in the first year and might make it hard for your baby even to consider you as a separate person from them. A strong bond between mother and child will probably delay your baby’s use of the word mommy. Until they can distinguish between “me” and “you,” they may not realize mommy is someone different than themselves. Until they can understand mommy is separate from them, they may not need to call you anything at all.
Dada is easier to say.
Unfortunately for mommy, dada is easier to say than mama, and daddy is easier to say than mommy. Don’t think of it as a competition between you and your partner as to which name your baby uses first. If your toddler starts using the word daddy and still won’t call you mommy, it doesn’t mean they love one of you more than the other. Some parents can feel embarrassed or hurt when their toddler doesn’t say mama or mommy, but there is nothing to feel bad about. Your toddler just might not be ready to try using the word mommy all the time because it’s more challenging to say.
Your toddler may have a language delay.
Every child develops at their own pace, and it’s nothing to be worried about if your toddler is slowly learning to talk. Most toddlers start speaking in two or three-word sentences at around 18 months, but it’s not uncommon for toddlers to avoid using words like mommy and daddy until they are two years old or older. Some toddlers just don’t talk much at all until they have a strong linguistic understanding. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your toddler’s language development, but don’t stress yourself out too much. As long as your toddler is learning words, it doesn’t matter what they are.
Your toddler may have another word for you.
The word “mommy” might be important to you, but to your toddler, it is just another word. If you pay close attention to their conversation and speech patterns, you might notice your toddler is calling you something other than “Mom” (or a variation on it). Your toddler could be using some crazy words like an apple or even a nonsense word to address you, and you might not have realized it. As they get older, they’ll eventually get the words sorted out. In the meantime, try to enjoy how cute their special word for you is.
Toddlers are single-minded.
You’ve probably noticed your toddler can be very strict about what something is and what it isn’t. Try calling them a fond nickname, and they may vehemently insist they are not honey because their name is Amelia! Around two years old, your toddler will begin to understand each person is a separate entity, but this entity is just one thing: grandma is grandma, the dog is a dog, apple is apple. Grandma cannot be your mother because she is a grandma! The dog is not named Lucky because the dog is a dog. Your toddler may just have labeled you as something else in their mind, and they are now stubbornly refusing to change it! You’ll just have to wait for the phase-out.
Are you playing the label game?
Your toddler might not associate you with the word mama or mommy. Try to refer to yourself in the third person as mommy to reinforce the connection. Get your partner and any other family members to do the same thing instead of using your name to try and reinforce the message. Set aside time every day to play the name game. Turn off and eliminate any distractions before sitting down with your toddler. Go through the words that they know and reinforce them with images. Include mommy and reference yourself. If your toddler seems to learn better with images or screens, then you can try to make a video of yourself doing the same thing to see if the lesson sinks in more easily.
Bilingual toddlers develop vocabulary more slowly.
Raising your toddler as bilingual has proven positive effects on their mental development overall. However, some parents do not realize raising their children as bilingual will usually set them back on language development compared to their unilingual friends. Don’t worry; the developmental delay is not negative! It will just take your toddler more time to pick up a larger vocabulary because they are learning it in both languages. Your toddler might be having a harder time finding labels for people and objects because they have two languages to choose from. Don’t stop teaching them both languages; just be patient as they absorb the information