I don’t know whether you have noticed it too – people don’t talk to babies or toddlers. Well, most don’t, but I do. I was reminded of this just yesterday, at a family get-together. The toddler (15 months old) wanted to have cookies. The cookies were standing right in front of him. His mother said “No cookies!” to the adult holding the toddler. (She’s one of those “no sugar nor white flour will touch the lips of my baby”-mothers.) But of course, the toddler wanted them. Desperately, being really angry. I looked at him and said sternly, “You know what, toddler, you can scream as much as you want, but you won’t be getting any more cookies. Sorry, but your mom said no.” He immediately stopped screaming and looked at me like “What did just happen?”, and I realized that nobody had talked to him as if he were a real person for the whole day. He was yanked away, things were put out of reach, people were talking about him, but he was almost never addressed, and nobody explained anything to him.
Apart from my mother and me. This is not a single occurrance, I observe it all the time. A friend of mine (not a very close friend) and her fifteen month old were at our place. The toddler was with me, the mother at the other end of the garden. Toddler says, “Mamamamamamamam.” I said, “He’s saying “Mama.” Mother says, “Oh no, he also says that when he’s hungry.” So what? He’s fifteen months old. Mother, food, being hungry, being tired, that’s all connected for him. But these parents are giving their children the message that the children are stupid. That their wishes and feelings don’t count.
That makes me real furious. Okay, sometimes I felt like a fool, blabbering away with my baby. We’re out, he’s in the stroller, and saying “Da!” and pointing. And me, “Yes, that’s a nice flower.” Sometimes I’d imitate his sounds just for the fun of it. And because I respect his urge to communicate. Now that my son is three, he’s an amazing talker. Big vocabulary, very articulate, quite good grammar. I don’t know whether this is because of all the talking, but I didn’t do it to boost my child’s language skills. I did it because it seems natural to me, and because I see children as real persons.
I believe that even babies understand more than they can express. What Moxie writes on babies and sign language makes perfect sense to me. I think that it’s hurtful for a person (even one that’s only a couple of weeks old) to tell her (not directly, of course) “You’re stupid. I’ll only talk to you, when you’re all grown up. Try to point out something to me, I won’t be listening anyway.”
I have been accused of trying to turn my son into an “anti-social super-brain”. By a person who thinks that you can be too intelligent. I don’t think that one can be “too” intelligent. I believe, intelligence can be boosted only so far. But it can be dampened. As can be the urge to communicate. (By the way, the only thing I do to “boost” my son is listen to him, when he talks, and answer his questions as good as I can. I’m not the one with the flash cards or anything.)
But talking to your baby or toddler seems to be very odd behavior. Imagine my delight when I went to a party recently and almost all the parents there talked to their babies. Like “I know, you’re hungry right now, you’ll be getting your bottle soon. See, the water is already boiling.”
I don’t know, why I’m spending so much time around people who make me feel really weird.
Oh, they’re family.