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My 2-year-old reverses his pronouns
Q: My 26-month-old son is extremely verbal but has his pronouns reversed. He says, "Hold you” when he means, “Hold me” or "I go get it” when he means, "You go get it.” We have tried correcting him, but he gets so exasperated that he starts saying, "Me, You, Me, You” when he wants something because he knows one of them will get him what he wants. Is this normal? What can we do to help him learn to use pronouns correctly? We started doing sign language with him at 10 months, and we think that’s why he started talking in complete sentences at around 13 months.
A: Not many children do that, but it is certainly not a rarity. The amazing thing is not that it occasionally happens but that it doesn’t always happen. Consider this scenario: hold up a bottle or cup and say to your son, “Do you want some milk?” If you get a “yes” or a nod, you might say, “OK, I will get you some.” You have called your son “you” and yourself “I.” That sort of inversion goes on all the time in conversation: “Come here to me”; “Go find your shoes.” Is it any wonder that your son begs, “Hold you”? Miraculously, we somehow come to realise that “I” and “Me” and “You” are not labels for objects like milk and shoes (or the names of specific people) but are designations relating to role or position. Your son will gradually figure that out and change.

Here is a suggestion that will help the transition. Use the full noun rather than the pronoun in most of your statements. “Let mummy see it” (rather than “Let me see it”). Does (his name) want to go outside and play (rather than “Do you want to go outside and play?”). After a while, be repetitive and say: “Let mummy see it; let me see it.”

Finally, I don’t think that sign language had anything to do with his pronoun reversal. I consider it an excellent thing to do with young children and encourage you to continue it.