Monday, January 19, 2009

Be the Voiceover for Your Kids' Lives

Photo by Duchamp

When HB was just born, I spent the first few weeks barely speaking a word to her. I remember feeling really sheepish about talking to a little baby. It's just not something that came naturally to me. I finally decided that we couldn't spend the whole day in total silence, so, I started to narrate everything she did or saw. I started to think of myself as the voiceover for her life.

This turned out to be a great tactic, because she eventually became a very verbal kid!

When she was 15 months old, we were at the doctor's office. She and another little boy were playing in the waiting room with the toys. I kept up my usual constant chatter, "What are you playing with? Do you have a ball? That ball is red. Uh-oh, the ball rolled away." HB would answer, "yeah", or repeat, "ball" or "red". The little boy's father was there too, and I remember thinking how odd it was that he said not a single word to the boy the whole time we were there. The little boy was clearly not at the verbal stage yet. The father and I got to talking, and when we realized that the kids were the same age, he said, "Wow, she's very verbal!" I couldn't help thinking, "If you would just *talk* to your kid, I'm sure he would be too!"

When HB was going through her "terrible twos", we found it really important to talk to her about her feelings. I would intersperse words about feelings (happy, sad, scared, hurt) into our running conversation. Giving her words for the emotions she was feeling had a calming effect on her tantrums. Teaching her empathy, by describing how her actions made other people feel, was pretty effective against her hitting outbursts.

As HB has gotten older, this narrating of her life has continued, but in a different way. Now that she is two-and-a-half, it's more of a two-way conversation. I like to ask her what she notices about the world around her. What she thinks about this or that. It's interesting to give her very open ended questions and hear her take on things. I've learned a lot about how she perceives things, what matters to her, and her likes and dislikes.

I would really love to continue this running conversation throughout her life. Though, I'm fully prepared to take a several year hiatus during her teenage years when I'm sure she won't want to talk to me at all!

If you have older kids, I recommend the book, Between Parent and Child. It teaches respectful and healthy communication styles for dealing with kids (and, for that matter, everyone in your life). I think it's a must-read for all parents!

So, even if it doesn't come naturally to you, I encourage you to talk to your baby. It can set a really great precedent for the rest of your lives!

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