Updated: Sep 29, 2019
The way we approach communication and the way we communicate with our baby, our child, lays the foundation for our relationship with our kids, now, in the teenage years and beyond.
It is the beginning of an authentic two-way relationship.
This foundation also supports our kids with future relationships of their own.
So how do we do it?
1. First and foremost TALK TO YOUR BABY, YOUR CHILD, IN FIRST PERSON
‘I’ll be there in a minute…I am making lunch’ vs ‘Mummy/daddy is making lunch…’
This is the human being you’d want to be close to and have a strong, deep, meaningful connection with.
I don’t know you but I talk in first person to/with all the people in my life who are close to me.
By doing this we are creating connection rather separation.
2. INVOLVE YOUR CHILD IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
By this I mean involve them in the day-to-day interactions you have with them.
‘I’m going to change your nappy/diaper. Let me see…I need you to lift your legs up please…’
If your baby is an infant (1-6 months) you can still involve them by saying: I need you to lift your legs…pause and then ‘… I am going to lift your legs up’ pause again then gently lift legs up.
(My babies lifted their legs up every time I changed them before they were 6 months.)
Kids need to know that we care and that they are safe to express their emotions and opinions, so involve them. Include them rather than just doing things to them.
For example, putting your nose really close to their bum to smell if they’d done a poo! (yes, I see this all the time!) or putting their clothes on without ‘warning’ the child first.
Instead I would:
SAY: 'I smell poo. I wonder if I need to change you. I’m going to smell your nappy.'
Pause then check.
SAY: ‘I’m going to put your beanie on…’
Pause, check in with your baby, then put it on.
3. WAIT FOR EYE CONTACT BEFORE INTERRUPTING
Scientific research recommendations to aid language skills/communication include attaching words to objects to help babies learn.
‘That’s a ball’, ‘yes, a chair’, ‘it’s red’ etc…
The thing is, I often see parents at full-speed-monologue talking to their kids, pointing at things before checking if their child was engaged in something else.
This means that our well-meant enthusiasm can take babies, children, away from what they were actually exploring, interested in and learning about.
I have a theory that this is part of the reason why some babies/kids seem to have ’short/er’ attention spans.
If you want to aid language by labelling objects, start with “what is already the focus of their interest rather than trying to redirect their attention”.
And I would go as far as waiting until baby makes eye contact with you/ child is calling for your attention.
4. REMEMBER EACH CHILD IS DIFFERENT
My first son was bilingual by 1, often translating for his dad; my second child started speaking (full words and sentences) closer to when he was 3 years old.
My advice is to not compare your baby to your friend’s.
Sometimes even ‘average' milestone timelines differ greatly from baby to baby.
Of course if there is something that doesn’t seem/feel right to you as their parent, seek professional help. (I always recommend looking for professionals who have a holistic/integrative view of the child.)
5. AVOID SCREEN TIME (if at all possible) BEFORE KIDS ARE 3 YEARS OF AGE (at least)
Anne Fernald PhD, associate professor of psychology and senior author of baby and toddler language studies says:
‘When a parent (or caregiver) talks directly to the child in an engaged and supportive manner, that’s what is correlated with the child’s language processing ability and vocabulary learning…those Baby Einstein videos don’t take the child into account, because they don’t engage the child directly. They don’t work,”
Words that were not addressed directly to the infant in the study, such as conversations nearby or words from a television or radio, had no significant effect on the development of the baby’s language or vocabulary skills.
6. CREATE RITUALS/ RHYTHMS
When my kids were babies, this took the form of a ‘day debrief’: Before bed, I would narrate to my sons what we did that day.
As my children got older I introduced a few simple questions for them to reflect on their day.
Nine years later we still save time before bed to talk about our days. These are some of the questions we discuss (I often just pick one or two a night):
- ‘What did you do today that was important to you?’
- ‘Who did you sit next to for lunch?’
- ‘What did you find difficult today?’
- ‘What did you find easy?’
- ‘What was your favourite part of the day?’
-‘What problems would you like to solve?’
They spark conversations we never had by simply asking ‘how was your day?’
I find that before bed everyone (including me!) is more relaxed and open to share rather than right after school or when they’ve already had a huge day and are tired and hungry!
7. THINK TWICE BEFORE INTRODUCING THE DUMMY/PACIFIER (also referred to as soother)
As parents we are there to be responsive to our baby’s needs, to decipher their ‘vocabulary’ as they are uncovering, discovering and mapping out sounds and sequences, and making sense of it all.
To notice why and what they are (trying) telling us, rather than what we want to hear.
When I decided to become a mum I made a promise to never, ever convey the message: ‘You do not have a voice’ nor ‘I don’t want to hear you’
And the reason why the use of the dummy/pacifier in our family (recommended by our doctor to help our baby sooth when learning to sleep*) lasted exactly 10 SECONDS.
Yes, I counted them.
When we accept our children fully, there is no need to ‘pacify them’ nor to silence them or ‘dummy them down’. This is not to say there aren't boundaries at home. There are.
One of the saddest things I’ve seen is babies/kids trying to speak with their
dummies on their mouth: No voice.
I know this is not the ‘conventional’ advice you get but that’s what we are looking for: Moving away and breaking free from unquestioned ways we communicate with children.
The issue to get rid of the dummy/pacifier in the future, because babies who use it end up making it a ‘need’, could also be troublesome - for everyone involved - if not done respectfully.
8. BE AWARE OF TALKING ABOUT YOUR CHILD/REN AS IF THEY ARE NOT IN THE ROOM
Remember that kids’ analytical mind starts developing around age 6. What kids hear in the early years then, goes ‘in’ unfiltered.
Be aware of what your children are listening to in their day to day interactions with you and others.
By filtering the adult world, I not only mean conversations but things they see,
hear and perceive (including screens' content); even when we think they aren’t hearing/seeing.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t encourage our kids to interact and
provide input and insights in ‘adult conversations’. Instead think ‘age-appropriate’, and this would vary from child to child.
9. KEEP IN MIND CHILDHOOD PRECEDES TEENAGE WORLD
If we are not prepared to listen to our toddler telling us about their broken teddy we can’t expect our future teenager to talk about their broken hearts.
As unreal as it may sound, specially if our kids still fit in our laps when reading a book, we are on our way to be parents of teenagers.
Thinking long-term is such a crucial element of our parenting and family education. We are building the foundation.
A good way to remember the keep the big picture is to think that the '1st 7' years will inform our relationship when they are 17.
- How do we start practicing listening without judging?
- How do we keep the lines of communication open while giving them the space to become independent?
- How do we keep the lines of communication open when my child does something I disagree with/I'm not happy with?
I’m all in for ‘building open communication with your teen early on’ as experts advice but why wait?
We can foster honest, respectful and open communication from childhood. This also ensures that our kids will trust us and will come to us during easeful and also during challenging situations throughout their lives.
Wouldn't that be incredible?
We may not know what our world is going to look like in a few years time even, but we can know that we have formed strong, deep, genuine connections with our kids, now and in the future.
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* Regarding sleep: We trusted that our baby would learn to discover how to self-sooth and self-regulate with our support and our presence.
A baby sucking their thumb doesn’t mean they will be sucking it forever (what I know a lot of parents are afraid of). I know of many babies who used their thumbs as babies, including mine, who ‘let go of them’ before they turn one! I believe it is because their needs are met and there is emotional support.