While we often crave the bond between parents and children, we miss out on the struggles they have to go through. A toddler’s life is replete with learnings. How to hold a milk bottle, how to crawl, how to ask for what they want- there are tiny lessons to imbibe every minute! We’ve forgotten what this feels like.
The only way to experience this as an adult would be to imagine eating a bowl of cereal in a zero-gravity zone, like a spaceship. How do you hold your spoon? How to ensure no spillage? See? That’s what a child is going through. Too many questions, too few correct answers!
Adding to the confusion, toddlers face another stiff challenge – the absence of communication. While meaningless garble sounds utterly cute to an adult, the child is attempting ways to be understood better rather than entertain. If lucky, a thought gets conveyed or is otherwise lost in well-intended but incoherent speech. Sometimes actions and gestures come to the rescue. It all appears mind-boggling from the eyes of the child. However, all is not lost.
Life can get simpler for a toddler, and the answer is hidden in the next stage of growth – communication.
The sooner children become adept at communicating, the less frustrated they are, the happier they feel, and the more they are in charge of their lives.
An open, happy child progresses from one stage of learning to another in a gentle and stress-free environment.
Early stages of learning include mimicking a parent, elder sibling, relative or acquaintance. This learning is unconscious. Notice children play with talcum powder, lipsticks, wigs, their favorite mom or dad’s goggles and observe themselves in the mirror? It’s all a part of the big experiment – of growing up! They are essentially communicating with themselves first. In all these activities, they’re on their own. Imagination is their teacher.
The second way is playful and intentional teaching by a parent or an elder. This usually begins with familiarizing them with tiny words and a few simple do’s and don’ts.
So how can you introduce words to your children?
- Daily Activities – Pick a repetitive activity – waking up, drinking milk, bathing, changing clothes, diapers, food, naps, play etc. While at it, talk to your child slowly and slip in a word or two as part of the daily activity. New words are easily absorbed if introduced naturally, as part of a routine activity. With the context established, memory retention is easy. Make reading with your baby a daily activity, even if its for 10 minutes a day. Constant involvement in the early stages of learning helps enhance the bond between parents and children.
Reading together is one of the best ways to strengthen emotional ties and nurture a love for books.
- Ask Questions – A good way to get conversation going, is to ask questions. Choose an activity like changing your baby’s clothes, powdering them, playing with them etc. You are spending quality time with your little one. Now ask your baby a question, and wait for a response.
Support and acknowledge with a smile, a nod, an animated look of surprise & joy. Follow up with another question. Attune body language, tone and expression for your child to open up and respond with enthusiasm.
For example, if your baby is babbling away into a toy phone, you could ask ‘Are you busy on the phone?’ Wait for an answer. Then you could ask, ‘Shall I come back in 5 minutes?’ Gesture 5 with your fingers. This will help the child understand that 5 minutes is a sort of waiting period.
Another example – point to two colors of cups, cutlery or toys and ask your child to choose. ‘Which one do you want, red or yellow?’. Let them choose. This exercise familiarizes them to colors. Build similar exercises to encourage your child to converse meaningfully.
Build a conversation time into your routine, one between your baby and you, when you speak and listen, for them to hear and be heard.
- Rhymes – Sing rhymes is one of the best ways to consolidate the bond between parents and children. Go slow. Even if your baby may not be able to repeat all the words correctly, some will register in their little minds. To make this a vivid and fun experience, relate a few specific words in the rhyme to their meaning in the real world. For example, if you sing a rhyme about a tea pot, show them the one at home.
- Slow Learning is Fine – A few children may learn to speak early, as early as 8 -10 months of age. Others may take longer than normal. Some may begin to walk early instead. For some, both may take longer than usual. Continue to introduce them to new words. Always be joyful, pleasant and expressive around them.
Stay in regular consultation with a pediatrician for correct assessment, rather than fear an outcome.
- Their Physical World is Irreplaceable – Tiny words such as dog, cat, cow, milk, ball etc, can be taught by showing them objects physically or in a book. Avoid introducing these objects over a laptop screen. Show them in reality, in three dimensions and react to them.
Children mimic parents. Today the parents are glued to digital devices. Peering into their parents’ devices may temporarily quieten and engage a child. However, too much exposure to the digital world may also make them socially awkward and withdrawn in the real world.In order to strengthen the bond between parents and children, make efforts and provide them with a healthy mix of both worlds.
Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Set work aside and spend quality time with your children every day.
For an irreplaceable bond between parents and children, it is crucial to foster stable and consistent emotional relationships right from the start. Communication is key for healthy socio-personal growth. Start early and see efforts bear fruit!