I was recently asked to write a blog on how mothers talk to their children and other mothers. I've been really thinking on it, because there's so much to say about both of these things. I'm going to ping-pong around a little bit, so try to hang on.
I'm a pretty educated person. I consider myself fairly professional and adult. Now, don't get me wrong - I have a silly side. A very silly side. I also like to laugh and have fun. Does that take away from my professionalism? Nope. Do you know what does? When I excuse myself from a situation by saying, "Mommy's gotta go take a pee-pee in the tinkle room!"
I can't tell you how many times I've excused myself to go 'potty.' I work in child care and I'm also a mom, so naturally, I talk like a kid. I've also been in situations where that kind of talk would be considered unprofessional and inappropriate, and I've still caught myself doing it! As parents, and for some reason, especially mothers, we tend to talk like our kids more often than not. Is it because we spend more time with them than with other adults? Is it because it's easier than using 'grown-up words'? Is it force of habit? I honestly don't know, but I want to dissect it a little.
I think that some mothers talk like their kids because they have so many friends that have children, and it just naturally happens. We think, "Oh, this woman has kids, she says 'potty' and 'boo-boo' and 'go bye-bye' so I don't have to talk like a grown-up around her." Maybe we're so sleep-deprived that we truly can't conjure the 'big words.' Have you had your quota of coffee yet? If not, then I don't blame you for talking like your kid. I'd be impressed if you were speaking in full sentences. For whatever reasons, we talk like our kids, even when we're not talking to our kids, and I wonder if this is something that we should think about changing....I'm not saying that I'm doing this perfectly, but I'd like to share what I've done with my own child and how it's changed both of our language patterns.
Since Juniper was a baby, I have spoken to her like an adult. I never talked 'baby talk' to her. Plus, I talk to her A LOT. When she was an infant, and I wore her while I cooked and cleaned and grocery shopped, I explained what I was doing. When she was rocking in her swing or her bouncer, I would read chapter books to her or talk to her about what was happening in the world. As she got older, I would walk her through our schedule. I would tell her all about our day and I would explain everything to her. I always did this in a 'regular' voice using 'grown-up' words. Now that she is 3, she speaks like an adult. She uses words like 'upset,' 'disappointed,' 'fragile,' and 'focus' appropriately in full sentences. I'm pretty proud of her. I'm not saying that her progress is entirely the product of the way I talk to her, but I think it had something to do with it.
Another plus to the way that I've talked to Juniper is that I don't have to 'turn off' my baby talk and remember how to talk to adults. I can't tell you how many times I've been talking to another mom on the phone and we'll be clipping along in a normal conversation and suddenly I'll hear her say, in a high pitched voice, "Oh yes, she's such a big girl, you so sweet! You go potty!" then switch casually back into 'adult' conversation with me as if nothing happened. [Were you talking to your kid or your dog??] Now, I'll be the first one to admit that my voice goes up about 2 octaves when talking to tiny babies and tiny puppies. It's ridiculous. But it's different when I talk to children. These are tiny humans who understand so much more than we give them credit for! If I talk to them like babies, they are going to think that they are babies, and they might not expect as much from themselves as they would have, had I talked to them like adults.
By talking to children like small people, and not babies, we encourage them to use the same words that we're using. We build up their self-esteem and help them to believe in themselves and their potential. They feel empowered that a grown up is speaking to them like an equal. That's an amazing feeling for a child. The benefit for you is that you don't have to worry about being taken seriously by your peers. You don't have to remember when to switch from 'baby talk' to 'grown-up' talk, and you can enter seamlessly from a conversation with your child to a conversation with a friend and vice versa. Plus your kids learn a great deal from you talking to everyone the same way. Our children can sense inflections in our voices, and if they hear trepidation, anxiety, fear, sarcasm, etc, they pick up on it. They will be influenced by the way you speak to them and others.
All that to say....words are powerful. The way you say them might be just as powerful.
Brooke + JuneBug