Polite vs Respectful, or ...

Doing What One Should Do, or Trusting Early Learning?

My grandson is now 25 months old, a ball of energy - exploring, and learning about self-determination. But let me back up ...

Here is the most surprising as well as valuable thing I learned about very young children that I learned in my first few years at Amazing Life Games, a community preschool I helped establish in 1972. What I saw was this: young children wanted things to work - everything. If a toy was broken or lost, they wanted it fixed or found. If someone was hungry, they wanted to feed them, if someone was upset, they wanted them to feel better.  If someone wanted help in doing something that they would benefit from, they wanted to help. And if someone was having fun, or was truly self-engaged in playing or building or fixing or (you name it), they wanted to join in. And these were three- and four-year-olds.  And, on the other hand, they weren't particularly interested in doing anything because we insisted or said they "should." (Hmm ... I will probably refer to this paragraph a lot in future posts. Much of our parenting strategy comes out of this from our own early years.) 

Fast forward 45(!) years ...

My family now knows that insisting that children say "please" and "thank you" will likely result in their saying that (especially in our presence), but whether others feel the gratefulness or feel the appreciation depends on whether it is authentic - from the heart - rather than because it is "nice," or because they "should," or because it is what we were told to do by our parents.  This key social-emotional feedback is a key learning opportunity that starts very early, and the sooner a skill is used, the more skilled the learner becomes over time.

At 25 months, P was talking, but not in complete sentences. Sometimes he would be "coached" to say "please" or "thank you" (coaching is emotionally different from telling or teaching), but mostly he heard us use those terms.  Soon, however, he began to say, "thanks!" and "please" in a way that is understandable, but not always. But when he does say those words, you can "feel" them ... they smack you in the head they are so meaningful. One morning I came up the stairs with a new sweatshirt on. He looked up at me, and at the design on the front of my sweatshirt. Then looked me in the eye and said, "Nice...s-shirt, Pop Pop!" He has made a point of using meaningful terms and phrases at surprisingly appropriate times that make others feel good - and he notices that, and at his level of language use, those words terms are becoming a significant percentage of his total speaking vocabulary and social attention. Of course, that comes along with "No, P not want nap - no way!!" or "My have snack ... I ... CAN NOT WAIT!!"

My point is not to brag about my grandchild, but to say that this is a way all young children can learn distinctly impactful social skills very early rather than repeat "thanks," "please," or comment because they had to - a very different experience for both speaker and listener.  This I also learned this from my preschoolers in my classes many year ago.  We could say "pushing" polite terminology as what one "should" say overrides the intrinsic experience of personally choosing to show gratefulness, appreciation, and interferes with development of personal responsibility, in having powerful social emotional skills (aka, SEL).

Upcoming post on "Say you're sorry!" as a human social skill - or being a parrot!

As P at 26 month old says to us at just the right moments: Enjoy!


How to Help Toddlers Up Their Own Development ...

... by letting them play with (safe!) everyday household items.

Last evening, while all of us adults sat around the living room/dining room engaged with our own reading/working, my daughter let my grandson Phin (18 months) have the salad spinner on the living room floor, as his "Ama", one of his grandmothers, had showed him how to use it earlier. In addition to the three parts: the bowl, the spinning strainer bowl, and the top with the large push plunger to make it spin. Phin very elegantly found he could push the plunger down more easily with one foot when he stands next to it while holding onto a chair to keep his balance. Then he added, one piece at a time: a jar of diaper cream (with the lid on), a Frisbee, which just fit in the top of the bowl, and finally a 3-4” wooden shaker-rattle. He spent 20 - 30 minutes putting these things in the bowl in different combinations and trying to see if he could spin any one of them, any combination of them, or all of them. His experiment showed that he couldn’t (neither could you or I, if we put the smaller pieces in before the spinner bowl). It was inspiring to watch him examine each piece, examine the bowl and other pieces, and trying almost every possible combination at every possible angle, and really look at what was happening and what wasn't. And to notice that he never tried to spin anything without putting the inner spinning bowl shows he knew that the connection of the lid to that inner bowl was essential to the spinning, as was having the top seated properly on the outer bowl.

 Imagine how many neural connections were built during this process: that some things cause others to move, some don't, finger-hand-arm-eye coordination, balance, and repeating-movement patterns: ones that would help him understand how so many other things work in the real world and build his balance, confidence, and strength!

And how different it would have been if one of us had gotten up to show him how to put those things in the spinner!

 Read my post on Facebook re Alison Gopnik’s NYT article (Our kids don’t need to be taught in order to learn..)

Q: Why was he willing to spend so much time with something apparently (to adults) easy to spin and boring? That is, this was not some toy or set of blocks, supposedly designed to keep children's interest. My thoughts on this: 

First, he had seen us use these items frequently, though not exactly in ways that he tried. But the fact that he could put them together, whether the spinner worked or not, made his activity very experimental. (What "seems obvious" to us adults about how these items do not work together is not due to our superior intelligence, but to our own past "experimenting" and use of the items.) Children want to find out how things work, and the most effective way (which also develops eye-hand coordination, spatial acuity, and finer motor skills) is by experimenting. So, second, there was a huge developmental opportunity in his (all children's) innate motivation.

My last point here is that there has been a detrimental belief (perpetrated by various sources) that young children have short attention spans. Not so. Children learn very fast, and so get bored very quickly when they have little say in what and how they are allowed to see and do things. Being "taught" is a two- or three-dimensional experience, though children "adapt" when they have no choice - as most of us adults did. Boredom is a bigger problem for more children than is struggling to keep up (though it looks similar - a struggle - to keep paying attention). Phin's interacting physically and autonomously with the salad spinner is hugely multi-dimensional, exercising not only all the senses and developing sensory acuities, developing co-ordination and thinking/manipulating purposeful actions, but also is essential for developing a trust of self and responsible self-determination. The earlier value of my wife letting Phin watch and handle as much as she does when cooking lead to his exploring on his own how these utensils worked, providing 20 -30 minutes of development, the value of the sum of which later in his life is immeasurable. The value for parents? Sit back and read. Being encouraging when no encouragement is necessary is annoying - even to young children!

[to see a video of a couple of minutes of his activity, request access to "Salad Spinner video" here.]

Who Is the Most Important Person in Your Family?

It is normal for a parent to put their own well-being - including R&R, exercise, and fun - last in their priorities (how selfish, one might think!). But the bottom line is, you matter, your well-being impacts everyone in your family in many ways, including learning how to take care of themselves. If your children don't learn the value of that from you, then from whom? And every child already knows that when parent(s) are happy, everyone is!  So here is a recommended blog post from Stephanie Owen ... it is worth reading here.  It is a great resource.

Discovering another ... re: anything

I love this quote on Farnam Street blog, taken from Krista Tippett on Generous Listening and Asking Better Questions. I've found it to be so true in my work with young children as well as with their parents:

"If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned this: a question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise, or fall, to meet. So while a simple question can be precisely what’s needed to drive to the heart of the matter, it’s hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking a better question."   - Krista Tippett

Let' say you just sat down face-to-face, eye-to-eye, with a friend/family member. After greeting each other, what could you ask to find out who this person is today, how have they grown since the last time you talked, even if it was only a couple of hours since your last conversation? Then listen generously. I haven't read Krista's book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Art of Living, so I don't know exactly what she would say generous listening is, but I would say it is to listen as if it is you talking to yourself, in-the-world, (rather than in your head). No commentary, suggestion, or rejoinder, not even an agreement or disagreement with what is being said. Just know you heard every word, every intent, and accept it all (no matter what your mind wants to say). And then wait, not saying the first thing, or second thing, or third thing that comes to mind. Let the answerer lead. You could be on an incredible new adventure!

101 Language Dancing for Babies & Parents

Gaining the skills for playing soccer happens by playing soccer on the soccer field. Likewise, learning language and social skills for enjoyable and meaningful conversation is learned from being in social situations, where there is true dialogue.  You know what I mean: when you and your friends get together at a picnic or for a beer. And if someone is talking "at" or "to" you rather than "with" you, you will find a reason to have to talk to someone else!  

 For young children, being "talked to" and being "talked with" have vastly different results in the same way.  Being talked "with" is called "language dancing," where each partner - child and parent - in a both verbal and non-verbal "dialogue,"  responds to the "moves" (facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations as well) of the other partner, just for the joy of relating - as older children and we adults do when we are out with our friends. 

In their research, Drs. Todd Risley and Betsy Hart found that the cognitive performance that children achieve or don’t achieve by third grade ...

... is all explained by the amount of language dancing, or extra talk, over and above business talk, that [the] parents engaged in [between birth and age 3].  It accounted literally for all of the variance in outcomes.   

(Quote from interview with Todd Risley)

By the way, there's nothing wrong with "business" conversations, like "time to eat, or "take your mittens out of your soup!"  A child can learn how useful these can be - but they are not as rich, interesting, or meaningful as everyday social talking between best friends. The focus of learning language is in social talk long before speech is mastered.

And if your baby is pre-verbal?  To see an example of a mom with a baby, request the link here, and ask for Language Dancing.  I recommend you watch it first without the sound, imagining what might be being said between this new mother and her baby.

What to love about this idea of Language Dancing is that it is also hugely joyful and fulfilling for you, the parent (or teacher, too!).  Enjoy.

Risley and Hart's book, Meaningful Differences in the Lives of Everyday American Children, and its follow up, The Social World of Children Learning to Talk, are must reads for educators. For parents, the significant points are covered in Beyond Good Parenting.


Firsts: First blog on new site, first blog from San Francisco ...

    Marty Dutcher

    Marty Dutcher

A successful relocation! We are here! I mean San Francisco - we've always been 'here', at least since birth ;). It took almost a year to pack up in Lancaster PA, then move, update addresses, auto registration, insurance, update IRS, Medicare, credit cards, bank accounts, blah blah blah ... and a change in clothing! But we are excited to start a new chapter.  

FYI, Carolyn (CNM) is retired from delivering babies and is now a Lactation Consultant, and I am looking forward to sharing my acoustic guitar music (hobby) and my parenting/relational expertise (professional) here on the West coast.  I'm happy to be in San Francisco and nearer to family, and particularly pleased to be able to play with, enjoy, and record our first grandchild as he explores and experiments during every waking moment (and sleeps more hours to seemingly process the huge quantity of facts and data he accumulates daily - like every baby and young child does).  Please come back as I am re-editing old and writing new blogs, and ** NEW *** adding some amazing videos, and will be posting the best for you!