Vail Novice Father: Use your words
VAIL VALLEY. Colorado –My 16-month old daughter likely assumes her communication skills are just fine. Since the day she was born, the Kid has had no problem letting me know exactly what she wanted: she just cried until she got it (usually food).
Now she is at the age where language is within her grasp. She’s even saying a couple of actual words. Let me pause her to better define “words.” I consider the difference between a sound and an actual word to be this: a single word means a single object or action. So “Dada” doesn’t count because it doesn’t just refer to her father (me). She also uses this word to describe a dog in the backyard, birds in the air, food, and stuffed animals. It’s also a fun sound to repeat while she’s walking in circles on the living room rug: “dadadadadada.”
Because she’s on the cusp of verbal communication, I now try to force her to use words. When she wants me to pick her up, I’ll say “up?” and try to get her to make a similar sound. “Uh” is usually good enough. It’s about getting the Kid to understand that she needs to use words to communicate her desires.
To help babies communication their desires, baby sign language is all the rage in 21st Century parenting. It’s supposed to ease the transition between crying to get a message across and actual talking.
I dabbled in baby sign language, trying to teach the Kid simple signs like “sleep,” “eat,” “milk,” “more,” and “all done.” She caught onto “eat” without any problem. And that’s the only sign she uses. And she uses it all the time, gesturing her bunched-up fingers towards her mouth. In the world according to the Kid, there’s no problem that can’t be solved with food.
The Kid’s lack of talking causes a problem with another rage in 21st Century parenting: ask questions that always give the Kid choices. I’ll say: “Do you want to walk up the stairs yourself, or do you want me to carry you?” This Jedi parent mind trick prevents the Kid from being able to say “no,” and either option means that she’ll get upstairs one way or another.
The problem is the Kid can’t say which option she wants. One morning I wanted to get her upstairs so I could get her dressed and we could get out of the house. She was having a good time downstairs and had no intention of coming up. To demonstrate my superior parenting skills, I posed the question as two choices (walk or be carried) and waited.
Of course she didn’t have the words to give me an answer. So we ended up looking at each other with confused expressions on both our faces. To break the stalemate, I guessed she was leaning towards me carrying her upstairs.
“If you want me to pick you up, can you sit up so I can get you?” I said as she rolled around on the ground, whining. I couldn’t just pick her up, because that would concede defeat on my part. Remember, this is a carefully choreographed process that solidifies my dominance as a parent. Give any ground and the Kid would smell weakness that she would exploit well into her teenage years. I needed to get her to do something… something that would get her closer to finally being upstairs.
By rephrasing my question I suddenly gave her the chance to refuse… exactly what this parenting technique is meant to prevent. And refuse is exactly what she did. Instead she kept rolling on the ground whining. The Kid beat me at my own game simply by hiding behind her language barrier.
I can’t wait until she has a halfway decent vocabulary so I can trick her into doing what I want.
Kelly Coffey is a novice father. He shares his mistakes, fears, and laughs along his journey to figure out how anybody could possibly raise a child. E-mail comments or questions about this column to email@example.com.