Have you ever heard that babies are born knowing all the secrets to the universe but they just forget it by the time they can communicate with us?
I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that babies and children understand and learn things at an alarmingly fast pace! Imagine learning and becoming fluent in a language in only two years. Babies do that! They go from having a complete inability to form words to telling you exactly what they want and need sometimes in as little as eighteen months. It’s truly incredible.
So if they know so much, why do we act like they don’t understand? Why do we expect them to not understand?
One thing my husband and I committed to back when we were perfect parents (you know, before we had any children of our own) was speaking to our children like humans. Often babies and children get treated more like small creatures than humans. Think about the last time you interacted with a baby… you probably spoke in a high-pitched voice, repeating a silly phrase, adding a Y or other sounds to the end of each word…now imagine speaking to your coworker or parents that way. Feels utterly ridiculous, doesn’t it?
If we want our children to understand us, we need to speak to them in a way that allows them to develop that understanding. And that starts long before we think they understand us.
Here are a few tips for speaking to a child in a way they can understand.
1. Use simple sentences with real words.
Babies and children learn words like dangerous the same way they learn words like dog; repetition and implementation. Meaning, if you don’t use it because you think it’s too big of a word, they won’t have a chance to learn it.
2. Come to their level.
Getting down on a child’s level and looking them in the eye makes sure you have their attention. They are better able to connect with you and grasp what you are saying.
3. Don’t give them their response.
Offering children their response like, “Okay?” or “Say yes ma’am.” after you’ve given them instruction simply asks them to repeat what you said. It takes away your child’s opportunity to ask questions or respond in a way that truly conveys their understanding.
4. Use positive action words whenever possible.
Instead of simply saying no or telling a child what not to do, try to rephrase your instruction in a positive way. For example, instead of saying “Don’t stand up” say to them, “Sit down.” When parents phrase instruction in the negative, the last thing the child hears is “Stand up.” Switch it up so what you want is clear.
You will be so surprised at how quickly your child’s language skills develop once you start talking to them as if you expect them to understand.