books, children-related, parenting

The Importance of Listening


Little Dynamo is very articulate.

Coming from his mom, others would smile and find it hard to believe and think that it’s just a result of my being HIS MOM:-) and dismiss my statement. LOL.

He speaks his thoughts and emotions clearly. To my and my husband’s constant surprise, he uses words and phrases like “I think“, “I thought“, “maybe“, “this is better“, “sooner or later” in the right context. Without his being aware of it, his grammar comes naturally. Though I notice some slips these days (can you educate your yaya’s – and other adult’s – grammar?), I’m sure it can be corrected as long as I constantly and discreetly guide him into it.

Undeniably, each child develops on his own pace. But do we just allow nature to set the pace?

My current vacation has allowed me to observe more closely, and realize, how my Little Dynamo was able to articulate himself earlier and clearer than most kids his age do. By “articulate himself” I mean not just the way the words come out of his mouth but more importantly he has acquired the facility to get across the images and the emotions that he wants to convey. And that includes his reasoning power which at one point made his Dad declare “I will lose in the negotiating table“. Coming from his Dad, that IS something.

As early as when he was just days old, I was constantly talking to him. For this, among other things, I am very grateful to have the choice to become a stay at home mom. His cognitive skills were sharpened when we started to read books together when he was barely three months old. This gave us the chance to exchange sounds more often and more intimately.

I noticed some mommies saying that their child is lazy and stubborn because they only speak the words they want to follow. I silently disagree. Silently because I wouldn’t want to appear and sound a know-it-all. In my mind, my resolve to be more communicative to my son and my soon-to-be born son is even more strengthened. Learning how to talk does not start when the child reaches one year old or two years old. Learning to talk starts from infancy.

Though I talk a lot to my son, I think my communication relationship with him is more of “responding” than merely talking. From the time he learned how to blabber, my responses were immediate. Now that he is on the stage of non-stop asking of why, I feel that my “responses” are even more crucial to his development. Though the truth or the intelligence of my responses is important, I feel that what my son relies more on is how I deliver my responses.  I have learned to stretch my patience the longest mile that I could for I believe in encouraging his questioning mind and never to kill his curiosity. Our days seem to be spent with the non-stop “whys” that he is now being called “Mr. Why”.

nurture shockI know I am on the right track and my confidence was even boosted after reading the “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t” chapter in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book, Nurture Shock. A baby’s babbling and a parent’s timely response is integral to a child’s language development. To an infant “vocal turn-taking” is very encouraging for it pushes “the babies to make more sophisticated sounds“.

The chapter also introduces the term “parentese” – the singsongy cadence parents usually use when talking to infants – as a significant style in teaching a child to utter sounds. Culturally, this isn’t difficult to me. After all, I am an Ilongga:-). But then again “parentese” is not cultural, it is universal. In fact, one is driven by his parent’s instinct to talk to a baby in this way.

But, what drove me to write this post is my observation on how most adults interact with toddlers and I can’t help but notice how this affects a toddler’s attention and focus and cognition. I have been irked by some adult and toddler exchanges, most especially those that I have witnessed my son had to go through. Prior to reading this chapter, I have already made my conclusion as to why most often, toddler and adults do not connect. And mind you, it is almost always the adults fault.

Take this scenario:

Toddler: (intently looking at the cars in front)

Adult: That’s a carabao. Look!

Toddler: (still intently looking at the cars in front)

 

That one above is very simple. Bu it speaks volumes of how an adult can give confusion to a toddler’s developing mind. And all because the adult is very eager to teach a toddler something new without paying attention to the toddler’s own concentration. You just don’t create confusion in labels, you also intrude into the child’s developing curiosity.

Another scenario:

Toddler: Look. River. That’s where crocodiles live.

Adult: (looking at another direction, without bothering to look at the river) Look, it’s Ajinomoto. (Duh? What does a child, who never saw or heard of, know about ajinomoto).

Toddler: What? Where?

Adult: (grasping for some explanation … and the car has already zoomed by the large Ajinomoto billboard)

 

Was the adult able to respond to the toddler’s curiosity? Did the adult teach the toddler something new? There was no learning there. In fact, there was no interaction there.

Toddler: (playfully putting his legs on my lap)

Adult: Don’t kick your baby brother.

Toddler: Why?

Adult: Because your baby brother will get hurt on mommy’s tummy.

Toddler: Why?

Adult: Because you’re kicking your Mommy’s tummy.

Toddler: (kicked my tummy)

 

There was even no intention on the part of the toddler to kick my tummy but the adult put the idea on his head because the adult was focused on his thoughts that the toddler was going to kick my tummy.

I had no way to justify my irritation over some of these exchanges but I know that this kind of interaction is no help to a toddler’s language development. One can see the kind of interaction or communication a toddler has been exposed to basing on the toddler’s ability to interact.  I am grateful to have found my justification over this irritation in “Nurture Shock“. I fully agree on the chapter “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t“.  Let me quote an important section from this chapter:

“Babies learn better form object-labeling when the parent waits for the baby’s eyes to naturally be gazing at the object. The technique is especailly powerful when the infant both gazes and vocalizes, or gazes and points. Ideally, the parent isn’t intruding, or directing the child’s attention – instead he’s following the child’s lead. When the parent times the label correctly, the child’s brain associates the sound with the object.

Parents screw this up in two ways. First, they intrude rather than let the child show some curiosity and interest first. Second, they ignore what the child is looking at and instead take their cues from what they think the child was trying to say.”

The book, Nurture Shock, has a lot to say about other parenting concerns but this chapter on learning how to talk inspired me to write this post as this is a current concern I am witnessing. Toddlers are so adorable but I have little patience listening to parents, or adults, saying that their toddlers only learn what they want to learn when I see for myself little effort exerted from the part of the adult to make learning (or skills acquisition) more exciting to the child.

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of Listening

  1. hello Ate Wendy! kumusta na po? oo nga ho, parang walang gathering here lately… busy lahat sa work and conferences, haha… anne will go home this saturday and stay there till the 26th…

    ****
    i never heard my brothers or SsIL baby talk to my nieces. I really appreciate the time i spent taking care of the girls for i also learned a lot about parenting and parenting skills. thank you for sharing this to us would be moms too…

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