Author Archives: Claire Douglas

Positive Communication

‘All done!’ says my 20 month old as I fasten the last button on her dress. ‘All done?’ she says in a small hopeful voice after the first rinse of her hair in the bath. The speed with which she has grasped concepts like ‘all done’, and the way she daily picks up new words and how to use them in the correct way amazes me. Sometimes she only needs to hear something once and it becomes a new favourite. This absorption of knowledge and words serves as a reminder that the language I use around her and how I talk to her is so important. It can shape so much of her character, who she will become, how she will interact with other people. Communicating with my toddler is a big responsibility indeed!

Often we say things to our children without really thinking about it and with little regard for what message it sends them. We use phrases that we have grown up hearing ourselves, and that we hear other people say to their children on a daily basis. It becomes automatic, an involuntary reflex almost. But these seemingly innocuous expressions can have a deeper impact on our children, who are taking so much more in than we often realise.  I occasionally hear myself say certain things and realise that those aren’t necessarily the messages I want to send my daughter, and resolve to take more care and put more thought into how I speak to her.

I’m thinking of phrases like ‘good girl/boy’, which seem innocent enough, but when consistently said every time your child does something, can reinforce certain unhelpful messages. I’ve occasionally found myself saying ‘good girl’ when she does something that I’ve asked her to do, but when I think about it, I don’t want her thinking that she has to do things just to please me, or that I’ll only think of her as ‘good’ if she always does as I tell her. I try saying things like ‘thank you’ now instead. The same goes for when she completes a puzzle, or correctly identifies animals and colours. Consistently telling her how great she is for doing these little things can lead to her expecting such praise all the time, and doing things for the wrong reason, and maybe even fearing getting something wrong or being unable to do something. I want her to enjoy learning and developing for their own sake, to work through things for herself, not because she thinks I expect it of her or because I have ‘trained’ her to do so. Watching her face light up when she completes her shape sorter, rather than being pleased because I’ve told her what a good girl she is for doing it, is far more rewarding for both of us.

That’s not to say that I’ll never tell her I think she’s done something well and worthy of praise, or that I appreciate what she has done – of course I will, but I’d like to help her develop her own sense of appreciation for her achievements too, and a joy in just playing and learning along the way – I hope this will be a healthy motivation for doing things.

Another important feature of language is manners, specifically the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We all want polite and well-mannered children, but I think of it as something that has to be learned rather than taught. How many of us have given a child a gift, only for their parents to tarnish their joy by forcing them to say thank you. When forced, it is always said begrudgingly rather than meaningfully. Surely we would much rather our child said it out of genuine appreciation and with understanding of the concept of gratitude rather than because they’ve been made to say it. And how much nicer it is to be on the receiving end of meaningful thanks.

Children learn through observation and experience, through listening to their parents and watching how they interact. I don’t want it to be any different for my daughter when it comes to manners.  I’ve never forced her to say other words, so have decided not to do the same with please and thank you. We make sure to say please and thank you around her, and when interacting with her too, so that she eventually understands the concept for herself and will use the words when she is ready to and comprehends what she is saying. I’m sure that along the way a lot of people will think she is rude, that we’re irresponsible parents, but hopefully after learning from us she will be happy to express these sentiments herself one day.

We’re still early on in our parenting journey, and every day is a learning experience for us as parents as well as for our daughter. Watching how she learns and picks things up has been a real education for me and has made me realise that I need to put thought into things that are so often just automatic. Of course we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but so much of what we do goes into shaping this little human being, and communicating with her in a positive and respectful way is a good place to start.

Nighttime Parenting

Dear daughter

You are now 18 months old and still like to nurse frequently at night. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever reach that holy grail of parenting – ‘sleeping through the night’, but it seems a long way off, and when I really think about it, I don’t think I’m ready to lose that nighttime contact with you anyway. Sure, I am tired, and some nights when I hear you stir all I want to do is roll over and go back to sleep. But I never do, despite being told that night weaning is the solution to your relative lack of sleep. Breastfeeding has been the one constant in your life since the day you were born – you have always been fed on demand, and derive great comfort from it, and it’s not up to me to pick and choose the times of day you get that comfort, or to suddenly and confusingly take it away from you. You have no concept of what time it is, or of the fact that mummy is asleep – all you know is that you need me.

It won’t always be this way. Every day is a reminder that you’re growing up fast, and will gradually become less dependent on me. You’re very much a toddler now and spend your days running about exploring your surroundings and learning. Oh! the learning – new words and increased understanding every day that always amazes me and makes me so proud. It’s bittersweet too though, like so much in being a parent – each new word is like a small step in your journey through life. (Unsurprisingly, your current favourite word is ‘milk’!) Nighttime is the last hint of baby in you now – I watch you in the dark rooting with your eyes closed and your mouth open, and unlike so much else in our lives together now, it’s no different to the day you were born. Instant calm washes over you, and your body gradually relaxes as you drift back off to sleep. For a little while at least.

Though I often wish they weren’t as numerous every night, and sometimes wish cuddles from daddy did the job just as well, I do treasure these moments with you now, as they have become our oasis of calm in a life now filled with energy and activity. They are the only moments I really feel I can fully concentrate on you, and on us – I’m not worrying about the washing yet to be done, the dinner yet to be prepared, or any other number of daily chores that take me away from you or are always at the back of my mind as we read the same book for the tenth time, or take half an hour to climb the stairs. The challenges of parenting a determined toddler are forgotten and left behind during our nighttime sanctuary.

One day you will sleep better, but for now I will try not to wish these precious early years away too quickly.

Your mama, any time of day or night x