Toddler Blog Post - Toddler Silence

How to Talk to a Toddler

Toddler Blog Post - Toddler Language

A Typical Conversation

At the moment there is not a lot of sophisticated communication with my 18-month old son. On our drive home from work and day care, the conversation will go something like this:

Dylan: “Caaaarrr”

Me: “Yes that is a car”

Dylan: “Car Car Car”

Me: “Well it is rush hour traffic so you will see many cars all around us”

Dylan: “Car”

Me: “That is actually a bus, can you say bus?”

Dylan: “Car”.

The parenting self-help books I read assure me that any interaction with babies and toddlers helps them to build language and communication skills. During our “Car” exchanges I really do wonder if that is true.

I have actually learnt to question a lot of advice and so-called wisdom from these books as I have found the theory and the reality don’t match up. This is what you are told to do…


Acknowledge Good Behaviour

I like the theory behind acknowledging good behaviour – that a positive response encourages and maintains the good behaviour. And I admit, it does work in some situations like eating vegetables, brushing teeth and wearing a hat outside.

However, take it from me, on the very rare occasion when your little angel is playing quietly with his toys, the absolute LAST thing you want to do is notice, praise and direct attention to it. Usually this is a recipe for stopping the ‘good’ behaviour and coming to see what mummy is doing.

Advice #1 – Acknowledge Good Behaviour = Plain Silly (in some situations).


Bad Behaviour – Ignore or Growl

I think the biggest parenting conundrum is do you ignore or growl when the behaviour is ‘bad’. The flip side to the ‘acknowledge good behaviour’ doctrine tells me to ignore bad behaviour. And again, I do understand that if you don’t direct your attention to it, the bad behaviour will not be reinforced with your attention and is likely to stop.

However, this is almost impossible to do in the following situations: Dylan has turned on the bath tap while I am in the shower thereby making my shower go cold, he has climbed onto the kitchen table and is now jumping up and down, he is wriggling away when I am trying to dress him. And these are just three examples before we even leave the house in the morning.

So instead I put on my ‘growly’ voice and tell Dylan to stop. Typically a growly voice leads to fits of mirth from my child. He will literally laugh in my face. Being laughed at is quite disarming and definitely not the reaction I am aiming for. Often the behaviour may momentarily stop, but will start once the laughing subsides.

So if I ignore the bath tap being on, then it is just continually on and I get a cold shower. Alternatively, if I growl, Dylan will stop for a moment then turn the tap on again, then stop for a moment when I growl again, then turn it on again. I thereby get intermittent bursts of cold water during my shower. I am yet to decide which is worse.

Advice #2 – Ignore or Growl at Bad Behaviour = Contradictory (and often unsuccessful either way).


Always Speak Positively

You are told to avoid saying “No”, “Don’t”, “Not” etc. The theory being that the child doesn’t actually hear the negative word at all. Therefore when you say “That is not a toy”, all they hear is “Toy”. I have a couple of problems with this.

Firstly, REALLY? Who has decided this? From a young age, children do understand and hear a ‘NO’. It is usually one of their first words. To say that the negatives are simply glossed over or not heard is very hard to believe.

Secondly, has anyone ever succeeded in this? It is extremely difficult to do.   The first thing I want to say is, for example: “Don’t stand on the table”. I have had to forcibly try to retrain myself out of using negative language.

During my retraining efforts, I started to wonder why it is so hard to speak positively. I now realise that our lives are conducted in a sea of negativity. It washes over us all day. We thrive on hearing about celebrity break-ups and meltdowns. The news is pretty much always tragic and terrible. When asked how their day is going, people don’t even reply ‘Good’ anymore. Instead they say ‘Not bad’.

We all need to make an effort to say ‘Yes’ more often. Look for the positives in life. Really feel grateful for what you have. Compliment your partner/ friend/ mum. Ignore celebrity gossip. Switch off the news. And when someone asks you how you are, today, disarm him or her with a “Fantastic”. Then the next time you about to launch into a ‘No/ Don’t/ Not’ spiral of doom with your child, it may be just that little tiny bit easier to rephrase it to the positive. I have found that the sentence “Feet on the floor please” is a gem.

Advice #3 – Speak Positively = Almost Impossible (but I will keep trying).


Always Speak Nicely

The parenting books tell me to communicate in the following way to my toddler – listen attentively, show empathy, try to understand his feelings and speak in a quiet, calm soothing tone.

This all sounds amazing but isn’t this how everyone would like to be communicated to? It doesn’t seem so much as a guideline for talking to a toddler as a guideline for life. I would love it if all my interactions involved attentive listening, empathy and really trying to understand the other’s point of view.

Advice #4 – Speak Nicely = Obvious (to the point of not being useful).


What The Books Don’t Teach You

I am not sure how to reconcile the theory with the reality of raising a lively 18-month old boy. Of course I will try and follow these guidelines, but through trial and error I have worked out that the theory falls short all too often.

In the meantime, I have realised that Dylan is going to get a rich introduction to language that involves many sentences that may not get uttered regularly except in homes with toddlers. Sentences such as “No sitting on the cat”, “The banana does not go in the DVD player” and “DON’T JUMP ON THE TABLE!!” are said more than you may think.

So I have already broken every golden rule of communicating with a toddler and we haven’t even gotten to real proper tantrum stage yet. I sure am looking forward to reading the advice on how to deal with those.

Toddler Blog Post - Toddler Silence

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Nursery Rhymes are Sick, Dude

Nursery Rhyme Blog Post - Nursery Rhyme Cartoon Baby in Tree

Nursery Rhymes in the 21st Century

How we parent our children is not like ‘the olden days’. Children are encouraged to be heard as well as seen, they are urged to question the world around them. They are expected to learn empathy and be compassionate to others. We want to them to embrace change as we live in a modern world with new technology infiltrating our lives every day.

And yet….the nursery rhymes we play and sing to our children are the same ones that were sung to us and to our parents and our grandparents. How come everything these days is the latest and greatest but nursery rhymes have not been updated for the 21st century? Why are these little songs so old fashioned when everything else has become modernised?

Of course I am not going to stop singing this nonsense to my son. I have found I am impressed at how well I remember many of the songs. He enjoys me singing (the only person in the world who does). I like putting on a silly voice, teaching him how words rhyme and doing actions to some of the songs. I am not telling anyone to stop – just to be aware of what your child is listening to. For example…


Ridiculous Behaviour

Many nursery rhymes describe ludicrous behaviour. In ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ the guy went to bed with his trousers on, and with one shoe off and the other shoe on. But it gets much more absurd. Animals are able to do all sorts of wild behaviour.   In ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ the dog stands on its head and in ‘Pussy Cat’ the cat goes to London to visit the Queen. During ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ the cat plays a fiddle and the cow jumps over the moon. My favourite in the bizarre stakes is ‘Yankee Doodle’ – the man must be a little crazy because he sticks a feather in his cap and calls it macaroni.


Animal Mistreatment

If the songs had just remained old-fashioned and a bit silly, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with them. What concerns me is the instances of abuse, serious injury and bad or illegal behaviour that are depicted. Is this the first introduction to music we want our children to hear?

Some of the things that happen to animals are a bit awful. In ‘Three Little Kittens’ they are not allowed to eat pie, and in ‘This Old Man’ he plays knick-knack on a hen. I am not sure what that is but it doesn’t sound pleasant. The scenarios can even be a bit amusing; in ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ she doesn’t have any food to give to the dog so it looks dead and she goes to buy him a coffin. How you can have money for a dog-coffin but not for food is not explained. But then some tunes venture into shocking cruelty.   In ‘Ding Dong Dell’ the boy tries to drown the cat in the well and during ‘Three Blind Mice’ the poor mice who have already got it bad, being blind and all, have their tails cut off with a carving knife.


Serious Injury

It is not just animals that are harmed. People also get their share of physical injury. Animals partly get revenge during ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ when a blackbird pecks off the maid’s nose. ‘Rock-a-bye’ baby has a nice calming tone to it until you realise the cradle with the baby in it is falling from the tree. What happens to the baby is not explained but it cannot be good. There are plenty of falls and knocks – Humpty Dumpty breaks into many pieces after his fall. Jack falls down the hill and breaks his crown and Jill comes tumbling after. In “Its Raining, Its Pouring’ the man bumped his head on the end of his bed and couldn’t get up and poor ‘Miss Mary Mack’ bumped her head and now she is dead. ‘Ring o Roses’ apparently alludes to the plague when we all sneeze and fall down. And in a twist, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ starts off quite pleasantly and then in the last line of the song sweetly sings “and here comes the chopper to chop off your head”. Just what your child wants to hear at bedtime.


Bad Behaviour

These nursery rhymes also promote illegal, dangerous and just plain bad behaviour. Majory Daw seems to be in some sort of almost slave labour arrangement as she only gets a penny a day. Nimble Jack jumps over candlesticks and Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town in his nightgown. Sukie keeps taking the kettle off the stove even though all Polly wants is to make a cup of tea. ‘Ten Little Indians’ is just plainly culturally insensitive and ‘Hush a bye baby’ encourages materialistic and indulgent behaviour. And what does a baby need billy goats or a diamond ring for anyway? Finally, Peter the Pumpkin Eater sounds like a terrible husband – his first wife wants to leave him so he kidnaps her and keeps her in a pumpkin shell. I don’t know who would marry him after that but he decides he doesn’t love his second wife either.


So Where To From Here?

Eliminating all the disturbing rhymes leaves us with only two that make the cut. ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ reminds us that life is but a dream which is quite a profound sentiment for a children’s jingle but it is perfectly fine.   ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ has beautiful prose that describes a star as like a diamond in the sky. So you can decide to sing just these two songs but then you are likely to go a bit mad with only two to repeat over and over. Or you can choose to ignore my little rant and sweetly sing about chopping off heads, cats being drowned, jumping around fire, serious head injuries and giving a feather a silly name.

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