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 #5:  “Ideas on Communication”

 In order to truly understand someone you have to listen to them, even when you don’t want to, or should I say especially when you don’t want to.  I think its Stephen Covey that said you should listen twice as much as you speak, although, I’m not sure if that idea will translate well to parenting a toddler.  You have to talk to toddlers continuously if you want to get them talking.  However, you can’t forget the importance of listening.  Listening is an essential part of two way communication even if the person you’re trying to communicate with is a toddler.  

 As we all know, small children have an innate desire to communicate in the language of their care givers.  I’m certain that if my son was raised by wolves he’d be howling at the moon by now.  But he’s not being raised by wolves; he’s being raised by two new parents, one of which is me.  And I’ll admit that I’m a new dad that often has no clue what the hell his son is talking about.  I know this often hilarious lack of understanding is normal. 

It takes years to become a great communicator and lots of people will never be great, just good enough to nail an interview or write a memo.  Oscar Wilde wasn’t two years old when he started spouting Victorian prose and Nas became a hip-hop icon well after finishing the terrible twos.  From what I understand there is a very wide range of “normal” when it comes to child development in  general, so I am in no way concerned with the current level at which my son Devin and I communicate.  However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t wonder what motivates him to say what he chooses to says on those days when I do understand him.

 A couple of months ago Devin started saying “Mommy stupid,” in daily conversation and it was usually out of the blue, although he sometimes said it when he was asked a question involving his mother.  People thought that it was me that he was getting it from and that he was just mirroring what he was being taught.  Now, I’ll call my wife lots of things like annoying, moody, or even crazy, but I have never called her stupid and unless things really take a turn for the worse I probably never will.  So then the question that needed to be answered was: “How did he come up with that phrase?” 

The answer became clear as time progressed and I started listening to both my son and my wife a little closer.  What I found was that since my wife doesn’t use profanity of any kind, Devin was repeating one of the surrogate profane words that she uses all of the time and that word was “stupid.” 

He was never calling her stupid, I’m sure he doesn’t even know what it means, he was simply stating that his mother uses the word “stupid” a lot, hence his phrase “mommy stupid.”  Lucky for me he repeats much more of what his mother says than what I say because if he repeated what I say we’d have a miniature Martin Lawrence on our hands and that would be bad. 

My wife has since taught Devin to say “mommy beautiful,” instead of what he used to say.  We like to call it positive reprogramming.  That’s damn good parenting.  We are also working on more pressing issues in regards to his language development and speech.  For some reason he tends to leave out the “L” in many of the everyday words that he likes to use.  This coupled with him being at the stage in life where he shouts out the name of everything he sees, makes for interesting outings. 

For example, let’s say we’re at the supermarket and he sees a clock.  He then shouts out the word…  Or he sees the American flag flying in the park.  He shouts out the word…  Guys, we’re working on it.  I promise we are.

 Staying on the topic of language development… New research shows that kids that go to daycare are slower to develop their language skills than those that stay home with nannies and other care givers.  I’m no anthropologist, this is just me talking crap, but what seems to happen is that in daycare children instinctively form a primitive tribe-like unit with a culture and hierarchy all its own.  I am often amazed when I drop off Devin at daycare by how he and his friends all say the same things and speak approximately the same comedic toddler language. 

That’s where we as parents come in.  If we want our kids to speak well, we have to spend lots of quality time with our young children just talking to them. Telling them what we are doing, what we will be doing and what we just did, are examples of topics that will get your child’s language development on the right track.  It helps them to understand the world better and helps them to develop their language skills. 

Along with that we also have to give them a chance to speak.  They are often saying something insightful or just funny and it’s up to us to decipher their language and help develop it.  One of the best ways to get your child talking, or closer to it, is at by discussing the events of the day at bedtime.  It’ll be a mostly one sided conversation at first but you’ll be amazed by how your child will start contributing to the conversation if you are consistent with the bedtime ritual.

 Another thing to keep in mind when you are analyzing your little gibberish-spewing toddler’s ability to communicate is that classic research shows that boys develop language later than girls.  So if you have a little girl that just won’t stop talking, or a little boy that only speaks when he wants something, you’re not alone.  This is allegedly normal.

 On the other hand if you are truly getting nervous about the way your child is or isn’t communicating with you then you should talk to your pediatrician.  On some occasions there is a hearing impairment present, or brain development problems, or some other issue like slowed muscle development that we as parents are unqualified to figure out, which may need to be addressed by a professional. 

I know that in New York State there are several early intervention programs that are free of charge and are often successful at resolving these types of problems before they become significant.  You should check for similar options in your area if you’re concerned, but you should start by talking to your pediatrician. 

 So answering the question of what the hell is he talking about is simple:  he’s talking about whatever it is that you are talking about mixed in with some of his random thoughts and words he picked up during the course of his busy day being a toddler.

last updated October, 2005

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