We as adults are always very impressed when talking to a child with a mature speaking tone and vocabulary. Things like “they’re going to go far!”, “start saving for college!” and “they’re just like a little person!” are common to hear in circles of adoring parents commenting on their all-but-grown-up kids. That last comment though, “they’re just like a little person” is almost correct: They ARE a little person, and it’s healthy and constructive to talk to them as such.
While not going so far as to never use baby talk on infants, parents should be mindful that kids learn language by listening to us speak. Our mannerisms, social skills, conversation skills, and vocabulary are just a few things an observant child will pick up on and incorporate into their own speech as they grow. Just like reading a Spanish textbook won’t teach you the ins and outs of conversational Spanish, learning from adults speaking to them like toddlers can never completely teach a child English, or any other language spoken at home.
Whether they express it or not, children are always listening and learning. Experience molds our brain which means it’s constantly rewiring. Kids see us switch from ordinary language to high pitched nonsense when we start speaking to them or other children, they lose the opportunity to talk to us like people and say what they have to say. It’s obvious that it’s a different way of speaking to smaller people, and they may internalize that for later life.
There is a book called The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind written by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D which focuses on helping parents and caregivers alike better understand children, respond to difficult situations, and build a foundation for social, emotional, and mental health. It talks about the two types of integration in their whole-brain approach (vertical and horizontal) that cause you to act the way you do. Vertical integration focuses on the higher (mental processes) and lower part of the brain (instinct, gut reactions, survival). Horizontal integration focuses on left-brain logic and right-brain emotion.
The first two whole-brain strategies are: 1) Connect and re-direct and 2) Name it to tame it. Connect and Re-direct focuses on first connecting emotionally and then using logic to teach lessons and discipline. Name it to tame it focuses on helping children tell stories about what is bothering them to better process and understand what happened so they feel more in control of their emotions. Talking to kids when they're having an emotional challenge or interpersonal conflict — "Someone is playing with the toy you wanted, and now you're frustrated" — helps them learn to identify and understand their feelings in a way that vaguely sympathetic-sounding gibberish just doesn't. Hearing "Aw, what happened!?" when they get hurt (probably after walking in one direction and looking in another) doesn't teach a child to not to do that again. Offering help and/or a hug while saying something like, "Are you OK? I saw you bumped into the sofa; it looked like that hurt. It's so important to always look where we're going," does. Using clear language, and talking to them about what's happening to them, helps kids figure out cause and effect, and how to prevent and solve problems.
Adults get heated when someone “speaks to them like a child” because it’s patronizing, and no one likes that: not even children. While kids do sometimes need hard facts or lessons sugarcoated a tad, we don’t necessarily need to talk down to them to express that. Kids have less experience than adults, but it doesn’t make them stupid. Talk to your child like a mini-adult: they’re experiencing the world too and have a lot to say. Listen, just like you would for anyone else.
Siegel, Daniel J., Bryson, Tina Payne. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. New York City, Bantam Books, 2011.
Sesame Street has been breaking new ground year after year since it first aired on November 10, 1969. Over the years, Sesame Street has addressed various topics ranging from marriage and death, families of those in the military, hunger in America, kids with incarcerated parents, racism against people of color, HIV, and more.
Five years in the making, in March of 2017, Sesame Workshop officially announced their initiative to bring Autism Spectrum Disorder to the forefront of everyone’s minds. It was named, “See Amazing in All Children.” That same month, the book “We’re Amazing! 1, 2, 3” was released. It was written by Leslie Kimmelman whose own son was diagnosed with autism more than 20 years ago. The purpose of that book was to show that children on the spectrum are special and just want love the same as abled children. In April of 2017, a 4 year old little girl muppet with autism named Julia permanently joined the cast of Sesame Street. For the first time, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder were able to see themselves represented on television. Almost two years later and the impact on adults and children everywhere is clearly visible. Sesame Workshop has taken inclusion and representation a step further by having their theme park, Sesame Place become the first theme park to become a certified autism center.
Their entire staff goes through on-going training in sensory awareness, motor skills, autism overview, program development, social skills, communication, environment, and emotional awareness. The park now offers two new quiet rooms near Big Bird’s Rambling River if guests need relief from sensory stimulation. These rooms have adjustable lighting and a comfortable seating area for guests to take a break. They also come equipped with a code you must obtain from the welcome center. This way, guests are provided optimal privacy. Noise cancelling headphones are provided as well, but must be returned at the end of the day. On Sesame Place’s website, they also offer links to Autism Travel which is a resource provided by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. Autism Travel gives parents the opportunity to connect with a community to share ideas, plan trips with other families, and explore travel options of some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Sesame Workshop’s efforts have hit home with Team ELM. We work with children with all kinds of special needs. Working with them on a regular basis has been eye-opening for our team members. When a company that is so visible puts the time and effort into training their team to be more empathetic and aware of others’ needs, it’s encouraging a positive change. Sesame Workshop has been changing the way children and adults view the world for 50 years. Here’s to hoping that with their passionate on-going efforts, the world continues to change in a positive way.