Are you talking for your child?
When we rewind the clock all the way back, we can remember that the first few weeks of parenting were spent diligently trying to figure out what our newborn was trying to tell us. We were open to facial gestures, squirms, and cries; each one letting us know that our infant needed food or sleep or care.
After that, we were waiting for the first word (perhaps a gaze or a hand gesture). We encouraged new vocabulary by speaking for our children. It became part of our daily interaction. This was a necessary process for our kids to learn how to speak. Children need to see their parents mouths and learn how to make the sounds. They need to be exposed to new vocabulary so that they can expand their repertoire.
At a certain point however, it is time to stand back and let them master these skills independently. That’s why today, we’re asking,
Are you talking for your child?
We know that kids aren’t born with social skills. It is our job to teach those skills. As with any new skill, we first model it for our child, then we do it together and finally, we encourage the child to do it independently.
In some situations, parents find it tricky to move on to that final step. It is usually easier and saves a great deal of hassle and embarrassment if we step in and communicate for our kids.
Whether it is greeting a stranger, or ordering in a restaurant, if kids put up enough fuss or just stay tight-lipped, parents talk for their kids. And let’s face it, when it happens, with no warning, that first time, it makes perfect sense for an adult to step in and solve the problem then and there.
Now we know there is a problem (a.k.a – a learning opportunity). If our child needs some strategies to handle this situation, we can teach the language, practice the situation and come up with a cue so that the child knows how to manage the next time the issue arises. The great thing about social situations is that they keep on coming and we can work for improvement, not perfection.
There are two great opportunities to teach conversation skills: in the car and at the dinner table. Nowadays, many of us spend a great deal of time in the car – we encourage you to turn off the devices, the movies and the music (at least part of the time) and practice talking…the art of conversation: one person talks while the other listens, then switch. Practice the art of starting a conversation, which is really just making a statement and asking a question of the other person. Kids can learn to do that easily – they are great at asking questions.
What about that dinner table? Well, many families have come to some clear guidelines about technology during dinner at home. What surprises us is how regularly we see the appearance of devices at restaurants. This is not developing social skills. In fact, it is developing anti-social skills. Kids need to learn to listen to the conversations and adults need to involve them in dinner conversations as well. We’ve seen local restaurants actually offering kids iPads when they sit down at the table. Please don’t let a restaurant make that decision for your family. Kids do not need to be entertained or plugged in. Parents also, do not need to be plugged in when eating with their children. It is a sure-fire way to encourage our kids to misbehave enough to draw our attention away from the device.
When else might parents be talking for their children?
– thanking others for gifts (writing thank you cards is a valuable skill that teaches manners, gratitude and printing/writing)
– emailing the teacher to ask for help for your child
– emailing the teacher to explain why work was not submitted
– phoning a store to order something
– asking relatives and friends to participate in a team’s fundraising efforts (have your child write the email)
– building resumes
– applying for scholarships
– University applications
– job applications
– University papers
Many of these seem so extreme that you may feel that we are making them up. We are not.
This week: Gain an awareness of when you may be speaking or communicating for your child. If your little one is under 2, then that makes sense. If your child is between 3 and 5, then they may need help with new situations. Otherwise, please take the time to begin to teach one new set of strategies to get your child feeling confident to do the talking.