I remember the child health nurse encouraging me to talk to Joshua. She suggested that I talk about the things I see as we go about our day – the red car, the big tree, the bird in the sky. It wasn’t a natural part of being a mother to me; I had to learn to talk to my children. These days I talk about everything – it is a foundational part to our family life.
There are four types of parent to child talk and they are all beneficial when our children are just toddlers: Instruction, Encouragement, Correction, and Conversation.
Instruction – it never ceases to amaze me at how young a child understands what we say. They understand a long time before they can speak. Though a child may not do what you ask, we still need to give instructions. The difference between teaching a toddler to obey and an older child, is that we actually physically go and help the toddler do what we have asked. If we ask them to come, we go and walk with them as they come, if we ask them to pack their toys we pick up one and they pick up one, if we ask them to sit, we help them sit. As they get older and you know the have been instructed, and you know they have practiced, and you know they can do it – you can then expect them to follow your instructions by themselves. At this stage you can see them processing the instruction – will I or won’t I? It is at this stage that we stop helping them and start expecting them to do it.
Encouragement – Our little Jessica as a toddler would only do something if she was clapped and encouraged on. At first it seemed like a drama queen thing, and it was cute/funny – but really it highlighted the need for encouragement. Toddler here at our place reminds us of Jessica – she claps and cheers herself when she knows she’s done the right thing. Everyone in our family appreciates being noticed and encouraged for doing the right thing – our toddlers are no different. We need to vocalise why they are receiving the praise “Yay, well done Toddler – you have played with a happy heart!” “Yay, well done, you put the nappy away – how tidy!” “Yay! You ate all your dinner!”
Correction – Correction is different to punishment. Correction is where we help the child get back to the right place. With correction our words tell a child what they did wrong. We shouldn’t hold back from this – they need to know. There is a danger for us to take our words and to give deep explanations for our correction – we need to keep it simple. A toddler cannot reason and deep explanations and clarifications are completely lost on them. Instead tell them no – clearly, firmly, consistently. Tell them what they are to do – once again, clearly, firmly and consistently. For example – Do not hit – be kind. Do not yell – use inside voice. Do not snatch – take turns. Etc. By adding instruction to our correction we are using every situation to help our children understand what is good. Our correcting words lose their effectiveness when we yell… getting down at the child’s level, holding them lovingly but firmly, looking in their eyes and speaking quietly is actually more effective that standing tall and booming our displeasure!
Conversation – this is the talk I had difficulty with. What does one talk about with a toddler? First of all we need to accept that it is going to sound like a one way conversation – but eventually they will speak back, they will point out stuff that they have seen and you will be able to build your conversation on that. When we just chat about what we see we actually are learning (as I did) to put things into words. Initially it is about the things we see around us, then it is about the right things to do, then as they get older we start to talk about what God’s word has to say about the world around them, and their behaviour. As they get older we start to talk about more abstract things such as feelings, beliefs, consequences – but for the now, with a toddler, let’s just let them know that we too enjoy the world that they are discovering.
Talking to my kids has become one of the most significant aspect of training their hearts – their beliefs, their character, will, and emotions. The earlier you start talking the more natural it will become.
You can see the rest of my Living with a Toddler for 31 days series here.
Or find more 31 day series here.