That Still Small Voice

How we speak to our children becomes their inner voice


Long before I was a mother, when I was still dreaming of two lines on a stick, and scheming out nursery decor, I was also reading about ways to parent, including, how to speak to my children. I decided, as hard as I knew it would be, that I wanted to parent with positivity, speaking to my child with respect from day one. How Millennial of me, right?

It sounds almost silly, does it not? Being respectful of a baby whose butt you have to wipe at two o’clock in the morning. After all, babies are not very respectful of us, screaming at all hours, and being mad for no reason. But too often, we get wrapped up in the fact that we have a baby, and forget that we are raising an actual human.

Very soon, before we even notice, our children start to absorb information from us – how we exhibit emotions, how we react to situations, and how we speak to them.

Jon and I decided to speak to our child as if he was a human from the very first day we brought him home. That is not to say I did not babble at him from time to time because it made him smile, but when I narrated my actions to him, and I did often narrate my activities to him, I used real, grown up words. His diaper was a diaper. His bottle was a bottle. His pacifier was just that. There was no baby talk or made up words, he came up with enough of those on his own.

Once, someone over heard me telling my son that there would be consequences to his actions, and they were quick to tell me that he could not possibly understand what consequences were. They are right, of course. C is not yet mentally able to grasp the abstract concept of consequences, but just months ago, he also was not able to grasp the concept of no. He learned that word because I used it, and taught him what it meant. Children learn words like dangerous the same way they learn words like cat or dog: repetition and  implementation.

I wrote more on this topic in Why We Don’t Tell Our Child “No.”

Because we are constantly speaking to Cillian in a clear and concise way, Cillian understands and obeys a lot of what we say to him. He understands more than he obeys, but he is able to find his own shoes, put his dishes in the sink and his clothes in the dresser, and clean up his own toys. It may take a little prompting from mom or dad, and a full forty-five minutes, but that is where parenting with patience comes in. He does these things because we tell him to, and expect him to understand what we want. If we took the mind set of, “He is a baby. He does not know what we mean,” I guarantee he would, in fact, have no idea what we mean.

Admittedly, I do not have another child to compare Cillian too, and I am sure I am very biased and therefore think he is the smartest child that was ever raised. But other people, both parents and non-parents, are constantly complimenting C’s behaviors and exclaiming about how well he seems to listen. I have no choice but to believe them!

Speaking to him as if he is a human being goes hand in hand with speaking to him in a positive way. Think about how you speak to your best friend, complimenting their accomplishments and gently telling them when they need to do better. That is how we strive to speak to Cillian. We do not tell him that everything he does is amazing, but we tell him when it was a good attempt and when he can do better or try harder. When he tries something and fails, and we do let him try and fail, I tell him that I appreciate his efforts, but will help him with what ever it is.

By doing this, I am attempting to teach him that mom wants him to try things on his own. That he is capable of doing a lot of things. That I believe in him. I know, most of the time a parent’s schedule does not allow for a toddler to find and put on his own shoes, or to go fetch his own diaper and wipes, but when my schedule does, I try to remind myself that my time is his. If it takes 20 minutes to get dressed to go outside to play, that time was not wasted. It was used to teach my son some independence and responsibility.

You are thinking, “Oh, just wait” right? He is only 19 months and that means two is right around the corner. I hear all the time about this terribleness that is impending our little family. Older women and veteran mothers tell me to beware the twos. They tell me that two really is terrible. I try to just smile and laugh it off, (What? And not tell them what-for? I know. It is something I am working on.) but what I want to tell them is that my child is not, nor do I ever expect to think that he is terrible. It is really unfair that they put such a stigma on my child before he has even had a chance to prove otherwise.

I am not under some dilution that my two-year-old will be better than any other kid. What I do expect is for myself, as an adult, as his mother, as some one who has learned how to handle emotions, and has two years of experience under her mom-belt, to be able to handle each terrible situation with patience, understanding, and love. I expect to be able to respond to my kid’s terrible meltdowns with dignity and respect. I expect to remember that while the situation might be terrible, the child is not.

Mary Katherine Backstrom of Mom Babble shared this post a few months ago by an unknown author and it went viral. It is a day from the perspective of a two year old. She writes:

I am 2. I am not terrible…I am frustrated. I am nervous, stressed out, overwhelmed, and confused. I need a hug.

I am 2. No one will let me dress myself, no one will let me move my own body where it needs to go, no one will let me attend to my own needs. However, I am expected to know how to share, “listen”, or “wait a minute”.

This post hits me right in the mom feels. We expect our two year olds to understand how to act and how to behave and yet, we tell them, either with our words or our actions, that they are incapable, that they are too slow, or that they are too small. We tell them they need us, but expect them to not need us. Last month we told them, “You are just a baby” and this month we are telling them that suddenly, they are a big kid!

I know, and you should too, that I am not perfect. I am not a perfect wife, or a perfect mother, or even a perfect person. I just play one on my blog! But really, I do not write about these topics so that others will think I am doing it all right. I write about such topics to remind myself that THIS is what I am striving for. I am striving to teach my son how to speak to others, and how to value himself and his own efforts.

Maybe one day, when the world is telling him he is not, Cillian will hear mom’s voice in his head telling him that he is enough. That he is smart. That he is capable. And just maybe, he will believe it.



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