The preschool teacher was orienting the afternoon volunteer as to what their plans were for the afternoon group of preschoolers arriving soon. She showed the paper plate faces the children were going to make. "This morning", she explained, “I held up this mirror and had the student look into it to see what color of hair he had so he could choose that color of yarn to glue on his paper plate head.” The teacher continued, “Some of the children don’t speak English very well, but someone told me to say this sentence to them.” The teacher then recited in Spanish the sentence, “look in this mirror” as she had been directed. The volunteer, who spoke Spanish, began to laugh and said, “Oh, no, that’s not what you said. You said look in the envelope and see what color your hair is.”
“Well, no wonder the little boy looked at me with such a confused look on his face!” she replied.
Do you sometimes feel like you are speaking a different language to your children? Do they look at you in a confused way, or totally ignore you? Or go on with what they are doing as if you hadn’t spoken?
Maybe we need to learn to speak “childrenese”. The best way to learn childrenese is to understand children and know what they are capable of doing or not doing.
For example would you ask a 2 year old to “go hurry and get dressed”? Would you tell a 3 year old to share his favorite toy—and actually see him do it? How about an 8 year old? Would you expect a 4 year old to own up to doing something wrong and not blame it on someone else? Would you instruct a 5 year old to sit still for 30 minutes without moving while waiting in a doctor’s office? Would you take a 6 year old grocery shopping with you and tell her to walk quietly beside you and not touch or ask for anything? (Ha! You’ve all said that I bet! But it certainly doesn’t translate into childrenese—nor did any of the above situations.)
The next time you speak to your child and she looks at you with a confused look on her face, or just ignores you, think about what you just said. Was it age appropriate? Did you give too many instructions at once? It may take time, but soon you will become fluent in childrenese and suddenly life will become better.