Using Our Voices with the Young Child, Part 3 by Jennifer Sullivan

This piece, taken from Jennifer’s 2013 LifeWays paper on “Becoming Worthy of Imitation,” is the last of three installments.

The Language of Technology

There are many ways in which we speak to our children, both positively and negatively, but it is not always the case that speech is present at all.  In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Public Education recommended that children under two years of age should not be exposed to any time spent in front of a screen.  The time should be replaced with active play, talking, and singing.  Before I completely grasped this view of abolishing screen time, I found I ran out of ideas to keep my child “occupied.” Upon deeper reflection, I realized I was the one who was bored and even excused the behavior by thinking as long as I was engaged in the screen time with her and the program was educational, it was also alright.  She was quite content with free play or going outside, but I was tired of repetition.  When, as parents we “run out of ideas,” I think it makes it that much easier to place our child in front of a television or hand over a tablet or phone.  By doing this, we are diminishing their right to speech and proper auditory development.  We are simultaneously losing our relationship with our children.  We are no longer communicating and are allowing something else to “teach” them language and behavior. 

We also need to consider our own reliance on technology.  When we are on cellphones or tablets we are wasting precious minutes that could be spent interacting with our children.  There are 1,440 minutes in one day.  According to most references, a three-year-old child sleeps an average of thirteen hours a day.  That leaves only 660 minutes remaining: a total of eleven hours.  Considering that many children are in daycare or school during that eleven-hour period, the time left to interact drops even more significantly.  There are a multitude of sources that tell us that many parents spend only an average of seven minutes a day speaking with their children.  Not only is that shocking, a more appropriate word is appalling.  Consider how often we speak at our children with only one-sided, directive communication, “Pick up your toys! Eat your dinner!  Go to sleep!”  Or how often do we react and communicate when there is conflict?  We really should focus our energies on communication that involves speaking and listening.  Our children really do have amazing things to say! 

Surrounding Your Child with Love

So what is the next step?  Or where does one begin?  As their caregiver, you are responsible for surrounding a child with love and support.  In return, they will grow up strong, become wonderful human beings and will love and support you.  There is a brilliant cycle that happens when a child is in your presence.  If you are stressed or weakened in any way, or in other words, distracted from the present moment, your child will respond negatively.  If your energies are focused and you are patient as you work with your child, your child will respond positively.  In Dr. Susan R. Johnson’s article, “You and your Child’s Health,she describes her son’s kindergarten teacher:

It was calming to be in her presence. She lived in the present moment. When she sliced apples for the children to make applesauce, the thoughts of her mind, feelings in her heart, and the actual movements of her body were all aligned with the task of slicing apples. In her speech and in all of her movements her mind, heart and body were as one.

Language is one way we portray outwardly what we are feeling inwardly.  We must choose to use kind, appropriate words with our children as we engage the moments we are living in.  Our voices must reflect the love we have for them even when they are not at their very best, because sometimes we are not at our very best, either.  We are human.  When you find yourself having faltered, apologize.  If I was impatient with my daughter and find a moment of clarity, I apologize for my behavior as I expect her to do the same.  When I wake up “on the wrong side of the bed” I will explain that I feel a little cranky today and I will need her to be more helpful and patient for me.  I always feel love for my daughter and cannot expect her to understand when my impatience or frustration clouds over my normal speech with her. 

The best starting place is finding your voice within your relationship and carrying it in song.  Sing aloud your child’s favorite song or bring a new one to them.  There is a sense of peace that overcomes when one sings.  As you transition from free play to clean up time, avoid the usual directive, “Clean up your toys” and guide them in song as you begin to tidy up.  There is no judgment, only that which you carry of yourself.  Find the love you have for your child and lose your inhibitions.  Become who you are meant to be: a fabulous parent who is worthy of imitation and who consistently surrounds his or her children with love and kindness.

Jennifer Sullivan is a LifeWays Certified, Waldorf Teacher-in-Training, Mama of two beautiful girls ages 4-1/2 and 8 months.