Talking With Your Children

The New York Times has an article on how parents should put down the blackberries and talk with their kids. You should babble even around babies in order to increase their ability to speak. The article implied that technology was leading to rampant muteness in children. There is no evidence of that. But they do have handy tips for talking with your children and increasing their verbal skills.We were aware pretty early on that Ian had a speech delay. The doctor wrote a note of concern about his speech in the file during his one year check up. At first, I blamed myself. Of course. My multi-tasking was responsible for his speech delay, I thought.

It wasn't my fault. But I had to double my efforts in order to get the Mute Kid talking. 

I talked all the time or as much as I could without going insane. I narrated everything I did. "I'm cooking green beans. I love green beans. You hate green beans. Jonah hates green beans. Daddy loves green beans."

Since he learned to read before he could talk (somewhere around 2-1/2), I talked and wrote down my sentences. We made signs of words and posted them on the refrigerator.

Car time was talking time. He couldn't run away because he was strapped in. He had to listen to me. "What color is the light? What does that mean?"

I offered him options. "Do you want milk or orange juice?" I waited for him to answer before I gave him the thing.

We learned sign language.

If he wanted to play with the trains, I would lie down next to him on the floor and say, "Here comes Thomas. He is going up the hill. He is hitting Percy. Is Percy or James gay?" Whatever. It didn't really matter.

I talked for two years straight with very little response. Then things gradually improved at around age 4. We haven't been able to stop talking. Though the Mute Kid talks now, he still needs work. I show him pictures in books and he has to tell me what is going on. During dinner, he has to tell me one thing that happened at school that day. We do "why" questions as much as we can.

I observed a lot of speech therapy sessions over the years. Speech therapy is useful, because the therapists give you a break, and they can inspire you for new ways to talk to your kid, but they don't have any magic tricks. They basically just do those things. Play with the kid and talk, talk, talk.

We've seen another big leap this past month. He using new words and new sentences. It still makes us happy. I'll call Steve at work and say, "Guess what Ian said today?"

8 thoughts on “Talking With Your Children

  1. I think it is this sentence — “I talked for two years straight with very little response” — that is most moving here. I don’t think I could have done that.
    (Of course, some people talk 80 years straight with no response, but I know that’s not you).


  2. “I talked for two years straight with very little response”
    Indeed. An amazing effort by Laura (worth being intensely proud of both mommy and boy).
    I’ve always questioned much of the work on language interaction between toddlers and parents, though, because I’ve felt that popular reports often presume that the parent is the one deciding whether to talk or not (the NY times article makes this assumption in the beginning, and then goes on to commend a couple of parents who talk incessantly, and their children’s outcomes). I think parents talk to their children because their children talk to them. My second (a boy, and small, and young looking) talked to me incessantly when he was quite young. I’d be hard pressed to imagine how a parent could have ignored him, no matter how hard they tried. He wanted it, and he drove the interaction. And, of course, it was tremendously reinforcing for everyone involved.
    I think teaching parents that they should talk to their children, even when their children don’t talk to them might have a lot of therapeutic value, but to that there is no trend towards people not talking to their children.
    And, a caveat, about the kind of talking. There’s a new book out, “Nurtureshock” that talks about the influence of different child-raising practices. One of the chapters is on verbal interactions, particularly with babies, long before they are expected to talk. It talks about how much babbling is interactive. But, then, the author raises the worry that people trying to purposefully respond to babbling (rather than naturally, the way we’ve evolved) might actually reinforce inappropriate babbling and sounds.
    I think using some of this information about normal interactions in early childhood and then trying to ramp it up (think, playing music to your uterus when it contains an infant) may actually have negative effects (though, admittedly, usually just negligible) on typically developing children.


  3. “…reinforce inappropriate babbling and sounds.”
    Oh BOY, I cannot wait until the youngest wakes up tomorrow. That sounds like a plan!


  4. I agree with Julie G. I found the article’s tone to be condescending and out-of-touch. The mom on the Blackberry may be responding to an important email. The child’s world will not fall apart if there’s a moment of silence.
    Talk is good. Talking with your children is good. Deciding that the employed mother isn’t talking with her children, on the basis of her behavior on the street, is silly.


  5. I felt bad for the poor stroller moms of New York, who may have spent all morning indoors babbling with their children, but apparently cannot walk outside and make a conference call or grab the cellphone-lifeline to a friend or relative without being lectured about the importance of parent-child interaction.
    I also wondered about the audience and intention of the article: does the Times imagine that many of its readers have children without having come across this advice before? How many of Times readers won’t have encountered this advice in the average Parents article at the pediatrician?
    Meanwhile, Laura, what you guys tackled really DESERVES more attention. And you ROCK.


  6. My wife reports sneers and stuff from other women. However, nobody lectures fathers. Three cheers for low expectations.


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