My son is now three and wow is his vocabulary expanding. I swear that every day he arrives home with some new words in tow, some of which I must say make me chuckle while others quite frankly make me cringe. We can’t control outside influences and sometimes kids just say things like “ I want to punch you in the face” (yes, I’m referring to my loving, caring son) because they don’t know the meaning behind the words themselves although they understand the feelings they invoke in others. Language is a major form of communication but I must say what underlies these words is just as important, the feelings that are shining through them. As a parent, it is so important to listen to the words our children use and also to understand and be compassionate when they don’t have the words to express what they want or need and end up freaking out. This will continue to happen throughout their lives and frankly it still happens to me from time to time. I know what I want to say but can’t express it fluidly so something different comes out, whether from shame or embarrassment or just a lack of clarity. At the end of the day, the adults and parents in our child’s lives need to model the ins and outs of not only speech but also listening.
One thing I am clear on is my son not only says what he hears others say but he also repeats what WE say. He doesn’t include an “s” at the end of “yes” (you can blame daddy for that one), he loves phrases like “jams” for music, “ no worries” and “sure thing.” A lot of the words he picks up are positive ones but this holds true for the not such positive words and phrases too. If you find yourself referring to the dogs as “bad doggies” know that your child too might just call the dogs the same thing. And know that this judgment I have about the doggies has now rubbed off on my son. Yes, the dogs are inherently bad. It makes sense as all of these are phrases that are heard under our roof. This leads me to the fact that children are always listening and trying to make sense of dialogue and conversations. Their brains may be small but they are filled with lots of curiosity and zest for picking up new ideas and vocabulary. It’s a good idea to censor your language and in front of your children by only using language that you would want them to use with others. It also means leave the grown up conversations for the grownups. Children don’t need to know about your household finances, your sex life nor your mother in law, after all that is their grandmother. Keep these conversations for when the children are asleep, date night or maybe forget the conversations all together. One thing I’m realizing is I do a lot of talking to talk. Speech should be meaningful but not constant.
With this said, it’s also a good idea to look at the level of language you are using with your child. If you find yourself simplifying your language or using baby talk, using words like “wa-wa” or “blankie”, it’s time to stop. Children do not benefit by being spoken to like babies, they are no longer infants. Of course this might not be the perfect time to introduce all the parts of a poem but if a word is above his or her level, explain what it is by giving a definition or using it in context. This would also be a perfect time to slow your speech down. Children process language quite a bit slower than adults are used to and we need to increase our wait time to make sure the message has sunk in before moving onto the next thing. (Good advice for all our interactions with adults too) Another thing to be mindful of is, are you using a specific tone with your wee ones? Parents tend to use baby talk to keep their children young, once they begin to move into toddlerhood from being an infant we need to recognize the tone we use is sending a message to our children, the message is either : to not grow up/ growing up is unsafe in some ways or to take positive steps forward and truthfully that’s what the next few years are all about, gaining independence, finding themselves separate from their parents and becoming confident young children. One can’t deny that being surrounded by a rich vocabulary, diction and phrases is a good thing and will better prepare them for communicating successfully.
Because our wee ones are listening a lot more often than we believe them to be, it is crucial that we pay attention and listen to how we talk to ourselves, our partners and about others as well. I came to this realization first when I found myself encouraging my son to be patient all the time ( I’m sure this is a phrase some of you find yourselves using a lot as well) the more I said the statement the more obvious it became, just how impatient I was with myself. I realized I rushed myself constantly whether I was in the grocery store, typing emails or even just making a meal. More recently I slow down consciously throughout my day, this not only makes my life richer in experiences but teaches him to do the same. I also realized I didn’t have a whole lot of patience for my partner, so maybe it takes him longer to chop carrots for dinner or he isn’t as quick to put my son to bed, what difference does fifteen minutes really make in the grand scheme of things. I’ve recently seen these as blessings, opportunities to look at myself and explore why I’m wanting to rush through the moment . If we are not modeling the behaviors we expect from our children there is a major disconnect and a lot of confusion about the expectation.
I’ve also started to ask myself if my tone, words and feelings behind my speech really match the experience I’m a part of. Children are learning this through exploration, they might say some things that make your jaw drop, remind yourself that they feel safe with you so allow them to start to make sense of what all language encompasses in your presence. Invite your child by modeling what phrases like “share” or “be nice” look like through interactions with them and others. Yet understand that it’s pretty lofty to think that a three year old should understand and do these behaviors on the daily. These are hard concepts to grasp. You mean I have to give that other boy the train I want so badly?!? By forcing children to do behaviors they don’t want to do all the time we teach them inauthenticity. They can do one thing and feel another. By modeling and being a supportive guide in the process who encourages the child to exhibit appropriate behavior without force we truly encourage our children to be authentic listeners and speakers. We show them that we value relationships and that fulfilling relationships come from saying what we mean and meaning what we say and also through listening and being heard.
Sounds like a pretty heavy load, well, it is, that’s the beauty of parenting. Plenty of opportunities for personal growth while also allowing our children to grow and thrive. Allowing our children to take part and explore the richness of life that comes through communication. Communication that is organic, loving and full of meaning will undoubtedly enrich the lives of you and your children.