Boomers and fans of the classic 1970’s television family sitcom, The Brady Bunch, might still laugh at memories of the show’s corny but wholesome themes. In one particular episode, a pig-tailed Cindy, lisping because of a lost tooth, is mercilessly lampooned by the school bully, tough guy Buddy Hinton. “Baby talk, baby talk,” he croons, “it’s a wonder you can walk.” In a shining example of sweet and ironic fictional justice, Cindy’s good-natured brother, Peter, winds up slugging old Buddy. The boy’s tooth is knocked out, causing the kid to lisp just as badly as Cindy.
Life always works out on television, doesn’t it?
Although Buddy was using the term “baby talk” in a derogatory manner, last week’s New York Times had some pretty interesting things to say about the subject. In fact, Jane Brody’s piece, “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk” [September 29] was the paper’s most popular article for two straight days. Clearly, parents are hungry for advice on how to rear and raise their kids.
According to Ms. Brody, too many parents today are literally ignoring their infant and toddler-aged children, even though they may be walking or standing right beside them. How?
She reports seeing mothers and nannies all over her neighborhood tuning into their cell phones, Blackberrys and iPods. Though they might be technically spending “time” with their children, they’re clearly distracted—and missing out on a golden opportunity to nurture and invest in the young lives of those they love.
Randi Jacoby, a New York based speech and language specialist, was even blunter.
“Parents have stopped having good communications with their young children, causing them to lose out on the eye contact, facial expression and overall feedback that is essential for early communication development. Young children require time and one-on-one feedback to struggle to formulate utterances in order to build their language and cognitive skills . . . society is falling prey to the quick response that our computer generation has become accustomed to.”
Jean and I certainly don’t hold ourselves up as models of perfect parenting. However, I can say we were deliberate and quick to engage our boys, Trent and Troy, in verbal dialogue well before they were old enough to understand everything we said, or at least acknowledge what they were “saying” to us.
In other words, preverbal children will often understand what we’re telling them long before they can articulate a formal response to what’s been said. It’s a fact that babies and toddlers mimic our sounds and style and need to hear our voices in order to learn how to communicate.
Indeed, much to our chagrin, sometimes the kids are listening!
The rapid evolution and explosion of technology presents a new challenge for moms and dads. Ten—or even five—years ago, parents weren’t tempted to “text” a friend while pushing a stroller or talk on the cell phone while driving to the market with Junior in the backseat.
I wonder if we shouldn’t reevaluate exactly how we’re managing the use of technology around our toddlers. I wonder if our children might be well served if we refrained from using the cell phone in the car and, instead, engaged them in some baby talk. Why not take advantage of your captive audience and begin a simple conversation? It doesn’t have to take a lot of extra effort—have some fun, sing a few songs, or tell them what you love. And why not begin to plant those seeds of faith? Reciting a simple scripture verse or reminding them how much God loves them is any easy thing to do.
In time, I’m convinced we’ll reap a harvest from these intentional investments of connecting and bonding with our kids.
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