Concerned and upset by my lack of language development, my mom decided to take me to the pediatrician. The pediatrician checked me out physically and concluded that I could, in fact, talk. The doctor advised my mom to make me say what I wanted instead of just me pointing at it. Here is some of the advice he offered. Stay tuned after reading for how this information can impact your practice of optometry.
Raising a child is no easy feat, and contemplating your own childhood and how you were raised can be daunting as well. My mom and I were chatting the other day at lunch about my great-niece, Julianna, and the joys of raising a child at age two. The conversation quickly had me wondering, “What was I like at age two?”
While I generally had a normal childhood, my mom shared that at the age of two, she had become increasing concerned about me. I would not talk. I communicated just fine, but words were not part of my communication arsenal. When I wanted something, I would just point at it. No surprise that I actually have a picture from that time period of me communicating just as my mother described. I knew exactly what I wanted even at that tender age. Who would have thought?
Concerned and upset by my lack of language development, my mom decided to take me to the pediatrician. The pediatrician checked me out physically and concluded that I could, in fact, talk. The doctor advised my mom to make me say what I wanted instead of just me pointing at it.
Here is some of the advice he offered. Stay tuned after reading for how this information can impact your practice of optometry.
1. Two-way communication from the beginning.
From the time babies are born, they need to know what is happening. Parents need to pay attention to babies’ non-verbal signals and listen to their sounds and cries. If you are unsure of the meaning conveyed, wait before reacting. You should make every attempt to understand what your baby might be communicating before jumping to conclusions. You will not always be successful in the beginning, but you will improve with each try. Children will hear a profoundly important message from you: “I want you to tell me what you need and what you feel.”
This is vital. As a parent, only you can open the door and wholeheartedly welcome your baby’s communication.
2. Use your authentic voice and speak in the first person.
Many believe in using baby talk, so I realize this is controversial. Try talking to your baby in your regular, authentic voice, but only a little slower. Perhaps try with an easier vocabulary. This approach models for babies the natural tone and language you want them to adopt. The more they hear language spoken properly, the sooner they will learn and try speaking it.
Instinctively, children sense inauthenticity a mile away. The children I know who are not used to being talked to in baby talk feel disrespected and talked down to when adults speak to them that way. Even at an early age, we know when someone is talking down to us and it is never a good feeling.
As far as the first person, adults often do not speak to children using “I.” “I want…” “I feel…” Sharing your “I” statements help children form “I” statements of their own. This is all about clarity, and it models the clear language we will be expecting from them at some point.
3. Talk about real, meaningful things.
Instead of teaching words, use them. Holding up a block, pointing to it, and saying “block” is far less effective teaching than commenting in context on a relevant event. Babies learn best, as we all do, when they care and are engaged in what you are doing. Many children will learn the names of their pets first or very early because the pet is important and meaningful to them. They see value in the name.
4. Relax and be patient.
A parent’s worries are usually felt by young children and don’t create the ideal climate for taking big developmental strides forward. Talking takes courage. Relax, be patient, and trust your child’s inborn timetable. Many patient parents I know have experienced their child’s verbal skills emerge overnight-a language explosion. They all get there.
5. Don’t test.
What children need most of all to be able to start talking (or do just about anything else) is trust. When we test, we are not trusting or respecting. Testing language outside of its natural context can be confusing for the child and may force them to steer away from their natural choice of words and choose yours instead.
6. Invalidating thoughts and feelings.
Accept and acknowledge the communication of a baby without the slightest bit of judgment. No correction is needed. If you understand the message, then they have been successful in their language task.
When we listen to and respect these early attempts at communication, children feel encouraged to keep talking. They’ll sense that their most random thoughts, feelings and ideas are welcomed to our ears. We want even more! Chances are excellent you will be their favorite confidant, the preferred ears to their voice, for many years to come.
Here is a novel suggestion and the real point of this article: While child development ideas are important, I’d like you to reread through the six items I listed above and instead of reading them as good parental advice, read them as they apply to being an independent doctor of optometry. You might be interested to know that the profession of optometry is successful in large part when doctors allow their patients to “say what they need to say.”
Two-way communication is essential to properly care for a patient. Non-verbal signals often communicate more information about their conditions than their words. Doctors want to hear from their patients using their “I” language-“I need…” “I feel…” “I wish…” Let’s get authentic and talk about the topics that really matter to them: their career, their families, their fears, and their livelihood. Relax and be patient with their communication around topics that may have been sensitive to patients in the past. Try not to confuse your patient with confusing tests that may steer them away from the trust in you as their practitioner. Questioning is significantly less effective in getting answers than that “pregnant pause” of being quiet and listening. Finally, there is significant judgment about who you are and what you do. When patients respect your early attempts at communication, they will be encouraged to keep talking.
We live today in a significantly different communication environment. Today, there are many, many outlets for public discourse, both good and bad. As optometrists, we want our patients to be positive about all things optometry. Take full advantage of the many communication outlets we have today and be prepared to listen to your patients’ words. Simply get them to say what you need them to say.