Just ‘Cuz They’re Little, Doesn’t Mean They’re Stupid

babytalkEver notice how some people tend to speak louder to a person who’s blind? It’s like they assume that since the guy can’t see, he can’t hear either.

Painful and embarrassing to witness if you happen to be standing there. And annoying, I’m sure, to the poor blind person who must politely point out that there’s nothing wrong with his ears.

Well, to be perfectly frank, I get that same prickly, uncomfortable feeling sometimes when I hear parents talk to their young children like they’re missing a few screws.

I’m sure they don’t mean it that way. I know they love their child and are often just trying to connect with his little body and inexperienced self in a soft, gentle way. But come on, a four or five-year-old can pretty much understand the English language.

Addressing a three-year-old in the third person or using words that are not really words (“Is wittle Jimmy feewing  a widdle bit sweepy? Time for him to go nite-nite?”) is actually kind of insulting and can really cause some confusion since the poor kid is trying to learn how to talk. I mean think about it.  If you were teaching English to an immigrant, wouldn’t you be careful to speak clearly and use the correct grammar and tense? See where this is going?

Another thing that gets my goat is when parents use the royal “we” when talking to their children: “Are we feeling crabby today?” This can inadvertently reinforce the idea that the two of you are one and the same. Not a good idea, folks. Little kids are working on grasping the concept that they are separate, that their feelings are private and their own, and that not everyone shares their viewpoint. Using “we” when it’s really just about her is confusing and sends the wrong message.

The bottom line is that baby talk is for babies, and toddlers and preschoolers are not babies. It’s a way of speaking that works well when they are infants but one that we have to gradually let go of if we want our kids to grow and develop with confidence.

Nobody wants to be treated like a baby if they’re not one. Using the right words, spoken the way they are actually pronounced, not only helps your children learn how to speak well, it shows them that you see how big they are getting, too. And that always brings lots of smiles!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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