I hate baby talk. Always have, always will. I actually don’t get it. Yes, babies are cute and yes, they are small. So why do grown adults embarrassingly alter their voices when one is around? Don’t they realize that we learn to talk by listening to others? Do we really want our kids to grow up talking like that?
I also think we should call things what they are. Obviously, we need to be age-appropriate but making up words for body parts or bodily functions is silly. Call it what it is – the earlier a child learns that a penis is a penis, they will not be embarrassed by it or get beat up in the junior high locker room for saying “pee-pee.” Farting is farting. If you do not like that word, say passed gas or something similar that depicts what it really is. Farting is never “fluffing.”
An extensive vocabulary and proper grammar are also important. Again, our kids learn to talk by listening to us. If this is not your forte, brush up or at least pay attention to how you speak. I am not suggesting a dissertation but verb and tense agreement are pretty important to get right when little ears are listening.
At some time or another, we will all have to take our kid to the emergency room. When I hit the mall with my three-year-old in tow, I had no idea it would be that day. A cloudy Sunday afternoon in Bellingham was the perfect day to do a little shopping. We entered Express, my daughter happily clutching the new cup I had just bought her at the Disney Store. I do not remember what characters were on it but I bet they were the 101 Dalmatians (for years she could recite that movie, word for word, inflections and everything). We entered the dressing room and after about one minute the novelty of the new cup had worn off. Just like her first Christmas – the wrapping paper and boxes were much more fun than the gift inside – the cup was now boring but the price sticker on the bottom, now that was interesting.
“Mommy, my nose hurts.”
“Why, did you pick it too hard?”
I leaned down and looked up her nose. I couldn’t see anything and she started to cry. She told me she peeled off the sticker, rolled it up in a tiny tube, and shoved it up her nose.
“Why did you do that?”
The look on her face instantly reminded me of my insanity.
Since this was pre-cell phone days, I borrowed the store’s phone and called her doctor who told me to immediately take her to the hospital. His main concern was that the glue on the sticker would melt in her warm nose and cause an infection. That, he stated, no one would want to smell.
Of course the hospital waiting room was packed and after about an hour she sneezed, sending the sticker down into view when I tipped her head back and peered up her nostril. This helped matters so much when we were seen three hours later and the doctor was able to insert a long tweezers-type thing up her nose and quickly pluck the sticker out. She was fine, I was fine, and there is really no advice attached to this except for stating the obvious: if a child ever wonders if an intimate object will fit into any of their body orifices, they are going to shove it somewhere to find out.
If you ask my now 22-year-old daughter if she remembers getting her ears pierced, she will say no. I, however, will never forget. It was not one of my finest moments. She was three and I decided they should be pierced. How cute she would look, how easy it will be to clean and turn them for her and then teach her how to do it herself. She will grow up with them and they will be second nature to her – she will unconsciously grow into the habit of good ear hygiene and how great that will be. The best part is that she will not remember the pain and no parent wants their child to endure pain. For those of you who immunized your kids, you know what I am talking about.
So, my hairstylist friend comes over with her tools and we start. What we (I) did not consider was that there would be pain, there would be blood, there would be silent screaming and if you think a three-year-old is going to let you do that to the other ear, you are crazy. So, she wore the Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow look for a while until we were able to distract and bribe her enough to let us near her other ear. She still has pierced ears, does not seem to be permanently scarred from the trauma, but I still think waiting until she was older, and could give her consent, would have been a better plan.
I have several friends who had children a bit later in life (later than me, that is) and I don’t know if it is their advanced ages or what but they don’t seem to be able to or want to loosen the apron strings. Their kids are now into double digits and they still do everything for them. Even when the kids don’t want them to!! I know one mother who laid out her son’s clothes on his bed every morning even when he was in high school (not surprising, she also does that for her husband). This was the same kid who had to go and “fluff” his decorative bed pillows before he could leave for school. He was not allowed to dress himself, but he must not forget to perfectly arrange his bedroom decor.
Making decisions, such as what to wear to school each day, is good. How will the child (or adult, for that matter) learn how to make a decision when required? I always let my daughter pick out her daily outfit (OK, I did have some say on school picture day). As long as she was appropriately covered, she was good to go. One December morning when she was two, she came out of her room and announced, “I’m ready!” I looked up and she was wearing the biggest, shiniest, happiest smile I have ever seen. She was also wearing red tights, red sandals, a red swimsuit and, carefully slung over her shoulder was a red plastic purse. There was an inch of snow on the ground but the tights were so neatly tucked under the swimsuit, I just grabbed her coat and said, “You look great!”
She had a wonderful day at preschool, felt profoundly proud of herself and now, at 22, is more than capable of making good, sound decisions.
The world can be a scary place, but I think what makes it most scary for kids (and adults, too) is the feeling of helplessness. There are a great deal of things that can happen completely out of our control, but teaching kids in age-appropriate ways what they can do in an unfamiliar or scary situation can help them feel empowered and will help you, as a parent, maybe worry a little bit less.
I always gave my teen-aged daughter (and still do, even though she is 22) a “tool kit” of strategies if she ever found herself in a less-than-comfortable situation:
1. Here is the time you get to fight. All of those times you wanted to punch your sibling or cousin or friend (or parent) in the face, well let her rip. Fight back. Kick, bite, scratch, ball up all that frustration you have been feeling about anything and let it blow.
2. Run, but run weird. Run in a zigzag, not a straight line. God forbid someone has a gun and is pointing it in your direction, what are the chances they are a good shot? Make it harder for them to hit you. Run like you’ve never run before, but run weird.
3. Always let me or some other adult know where you are. If you change locations, call. The reason: If something ever happened to you, I would need to let the police know where to start looking for you. Scary? You bet, but also logical. Kids get and appreciate that.
Teach kids common sense, let them know why you have rules (not to be punitive but because you love them more than anything in the world and you want them to be safe), and then give them some tools to carry with them as they venture out in the world.
Many years ago, when I was a young mother and my daughter was 2, I left her on the floor at the grocery store. She was having a complete, back-flipping, silent (and not so silent) screaming, purple-faced fit.
A man approached me and asked me if that was my child. I told him yes, and he asked me if I knew what she was doing. My immediate answer (without thinking, of course) was, doesn’t everyone in the store (and down the street for that matter) know what she is doing? Needless to say, he did not like my answer, nor the fact that I left her one aisle over to have a complete meltdown.
In my defense:
1. I knew exactly where she was and I was closer than she knew.
2. She was in the toilet paper aisle, so there was not much chance of accidentally knocking herself out with a can of corn.
3. I was getting my shopping done.
Not in my defense:
1. She was making a lot of noise and probably bothering customers.
2. The store’s toilet paper sales would be zero.
I do not have the correct answer on what to do in this situation, because if I had removed her from the store, she would have had a small victory in that I was not able to get my shopping done.
But that still might have been what I should have done for the sanity of everyone else in the store. One thing I know for sure is that in no way was I going to shut her up by giving in and getting her the item she wanted, to which I had replied, “Not today.”
Those parents who give in just to shut them up might think at the time that they have no choice. Think again.
The best way to teach a child to be polite is to be polite to them. They are people after all, just (most of the time) a smaller version. Do not wait until they are “old enough” to learn manners, otherwise you will have a group of adults such as those I encountered at Fred Meyer on Sunday: completely oblivious that they are not the only person in the store and that a grocery cart should follow the rules of the road (pull over, people!).
Children understand non-verbal communication with the best of them. A look from across the room can have far greater impact than a word or action. Most important, though, is that children learn self-respect and that they are valued by being treated with respect and care. Never talk down to a kid or alter your voice. No one can stand listening to an adult talk “baby talk” to a kid, especially the kids themselves. Do you really want them to grow up talking like that? Speak to them as you would to any adult, especially an adult you are not close to; just make sure you use words they can understand.
Give them credit; they are much more savvy than you may think. I can’t think of a more polite person than one who feels good about themselves, and in turn, feels good about others.