It’s impossible for us to understand - or to be more accurate, to remember - what it’s like for a baby or toddler trying to get to grips with conversation. Even if we decide to learn another tongue, we at least know what language is, we grasp the concept; our little ones are starting entirely from scratch. So how can we help them?
Most importantly, we can integrate speech into every aspect of our interaction with our very young children.
Talk about what is happening as it happens, “The foot goes into the sock” for example, and whilst playing with them, do your thinking aloud, “I wonder if this brick will balance on the tower, or will it make it fall over?”
If your child is beginning to identify objects with words, in addition to acknowledging when they are right, you can add to what they have said.
“Yes, it’s a yellow ball.”
Even before they are able to talk, you can model the patterns of conversation through non-verbal communication. Turn taking, eye contact, agreement, acknowledgement, mirroring and body language are all important aspects of how we interact with each other, and these must be learned too. Sure, we pick up a lot of these conventions just through observing one another, but if you’re aware of reinforcing the patterns of conversation during physical play with your child, then they should grasp them all the more easily.
And whilst we’re on the subject of observation, pay attention to the way that your child or children interact with others. Encourage peer collaboration, give some narration on what is happening, describe what you see to the children involved.
The more your children are exposed to language, the less intimidating it will be for them. In this day and age, so much of our communication takes place via screens and the written word, it’s vital that we take time and make the effort to help our children feel comfortable with the verbal spontaneous self-expression that is face to face conversation.
It's the time of year where we tend towards reflection on the past and looking to the future. Our children are not unaware of this too.
In November I wrote about how the connection between our brain and our body is very much deeper than we might have imagined, and counselled encouraging our children to consider themselves in a more holistic way.
But how do we do that?
Good Heavens! It seems that our minds and bodies are linked…
Yes, finally science is catching up with what those who work in physical professions have known for years.
Several articles have appeared recently, in the print press and online, discussing new findings that challenge the idea that our bodies are vessels for transporting our brains around. It is the common received belief, and although we are encouraged to keep our vessels healthy, we completely underestimate how powerfully unified the human system is.
If you live or work with small children, how often do you actually get down and view the world from their perspective?
It can be, quite literally, an eye opener.
It’s not just the psychological effect of endlessly looking upwards at your designated figures of authority, it’s also the horrible damage to your cervical spine that makes this an undesirable state of affairs.
Young children are small - there’s no getting round it, they just are. They can be quite a long way down, and sometimes it can seem like a bit of an effort to get all the way down there, because you’ll only have to get all the way back up again.
I remember working at an Infant School, with a class of Year 2s who were just about to leave to go to Junior School, and one little boy in particular was feeling a bit anxious about his unknown future. We spent a playtime sitting on the carpet together, talking through his concerns and, thankfully, allaying his fears. When the bell rang and the other children started to come back into the classroom, a little girl ran over to me and said, “What are you doing on the floor Miss? You’re a grown-up!!” And of course I realised in that instant that at the ripe old age of eight, no adult ever got down to her level - never actually communicated with her face to face, eye to eye. Not her parents, not her teachers, no-one she classified as a grown-up. She was spending her life literally being talked down to, every single day.
Not so long ago, a friend of mine posted a quite understandable rant on Facebook, following a particularly unpleasant altercation when he tried to take his child into his workplace of fifteen years. The attitude of the gatekeeper had been less than welcoming, which judging by the substantial online discussion my friend's post generated, around similar problems experienced by mutual friends in similar situations, this is not too uncommon.
What there wasn’t - in any of the cases cited - was any empathy with the child, and how she must have felt. Our POV is almost always so rooted in the adult experience, that whether literally or metaphorically, we find it difficult to take on board the child’s perspective, and I can’t help thinking that my friend’s child must have picked up on the vibe of not being wanted or welcome in the building.
We have enough difficulty with a younger generation who feel alienated and ostracised from the adult world, perhaps we could take time to really look through their eyes, to see their point of view, to try to bridge that void.
There is a secret weapon to help your children’s bodies work better, to help them feel better, to help them perform better and to help them be happier.
We all have our own concept of ourselves, our own idea of self, and our own idea of when we are our best selves. It may not happen very often, but you know those moments when you feel a little more alive, feel that you are thriving and contributing more. Our language says it all when the converse is true and we are feeling unsure of ourselves.