The other day my husband taught me a vital lesson in the art of listening… to our kids, that is. (Of course, I always listen to him!) It was about 5 o clock and getting cold outside. I wanted to start cooking dinner. Molly came in from outside and started tugging on the baby gate near the back door. I assumed she was getting cold outside so I opened it for her and stood aside to let her come in. She said, “NO!” very crossly and slammed the gate shut. Then she burst into tears. Assuming she still wanted to come in, I opened it and again she slammed it shut, cried “NO!” and burst into tears. I figured she must have wanted me to come outside with her so I said, “I’m not coming outside, I’m cooking dinner” and she got in a huff and ran back outside to Dad.
A few minutes later Chris comes in and says, “Aren’t you listening? Can’t you hear Molly calling to you? She’s saying, ‘Mumma, push. Mumma, push.’ She’s asking you to come and push her on the swing.” As soon as he explained it, I could hear exactly what she was saying. But because I’d never heard her say that before, I couldn’t understand her until I had the translation.
I actually think the most important thing we can do to encourage our babies to talk is to make the time to listen. And I mean really listen. Getting down on their level, looking them in the eye, waiting patiently and really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.
Obviously it’s also important to talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, include them in whatever you’re doing, but children will absorb language from all around them, whether you deliberately teach them or not. But to speak they need to be motivated, and the best motivation is when using words gets them the result they want, whether that’s getting a push on the swing, a bottle of milk, or simply getting Mummy’s attention.
Since that incident, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to listen to Molly and try to understand what she’s saying, but it takes commitment. Just yesterday I was pulling up weeds in the garden when Molly climbed up on the double swing with Caillie and said, “Mumma, push. Mumma, push.” So immediately I dropped the weed I was tugging and started pushing her in the swing. But even while I was doing it, she kept saying, “Mumma, push, Mumma, push,” and I thought, “What now? Mumma is pushing!” Then she made this little musical sound, “Mumma, do do do do, la la la Push!” and I realised that she wanted me to sing the Wiggles song I always sing when she’s on the swing. “Push me on the swing, feel the air, through my hair, swinging, swinging, on a swing.” That was what she wanted all along! That’s why it had to be Mumma push, not Daddy push or Caillie push, because she wanted the song. Sometimes, even when Mummy thinks she’s listening really well, it still takes a while to get the message!