Some people just don’t know what to say to babies and toddlers. I remember a moment from a TV show, where a young and hip man was left alone with a little kid, and was plainly uncomfortable. Desperately fishing for something to break the silence, he finally says “So, you’re a kid, huh?”
Not the smoothest conversation starter, but when it comes to talking to new babies, really pretty much anything will do. Newborn babies are sponges for hearing and learning, and the more words and talk they hear, the more they learn, and the smarter they become. There are a few easy hints to make talking to babies better for them. First, talk to them with your face about a foot or two in front of theirs. Newborns like looking at faces, but their new eyes can only focus on faces that close. Second, make the most of the time that baby is awake. Newborns are only awake about four hours per day, so that is the time to lay it on. Just start talking, use lots of different words, use an upbeat voice. For the first month you may not get much response, but don’t be discouraged. After that time babies “wake up” to the world, and nothing is more fun than watching their faces light up when you start talking. They start cooing along and smiling and laughing, and that is the best.
When you talk to toddlers, stay upbeat and positive, and keep talking with a lot of different words. Believe it or not, toddlers still don’t speak much English at 1 to 3 years old. They still only have a few words they really understand, like “no,” “juice,” and “cat.” Use full sentences even if they can’t; they’ll learn. Even if the toddler acts defiant, stay polite and upbeat. They learn good English and good manners by imitation, so be a good role model.
When toddlers begin to act bad, this is when talking positive and being polite become hard work. Yelling at them to “Sit down!” and “Shut up!” teaches them to speak rudely too. Also, they don’t understand the meaning of lots of commands and sentences, so they can only follow the tone of your voice and body language. Modeling impatience and frustration teaches them to be impatient and easily frustrated.
Therefore, talking to toddlers needs to be done in a way that you want your toddler to act and talk. ”Please sit down so mommy can do this” should be done in a polite tone, with gently guiding the toddler to his chair. If he is acting badly and defiant and just won’t sit down, then gently guide him to his time-out chair, the one with the buckle that keeps him in place. The time-out should last as many minutes as his age- one year olds stay in for one minute, two year-olds for two minutes, and so on. And then ignore all screams and rants and bad behavior and go about your business in a calm way. When time is up, ask “Are you ready to be helpful?,” again in a positive voice. If he is, great. If not and the defiance continues, back into the chair for another break.
I am not saying that this approach with toddlers is easy or always possible, except for the most saintly and patient of parents. However, you need to start making the effort and keep reminding yourself to stay nice. Many toddlers are hard work when it comes to making good behavior, but the effort counts!
When it comes to talking to babies and toddlers, just start. To quote a movie title, Say Anything. Say it nicely, and say it a lot.