Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stop talking and listen to yourself!

Henry, being 21 months old, isn't the best communicator. His vocabulary at the moment is pretty much limited to mama, dada, bubba, and animal sounds (he does a great snake). Recently, Bubba and I have grown frustrated with his attempts to tell us what he wants. Over the past week or so he's picked up the habit of saying "dis, dis" whenever we ask him what he wants.

To us "dis, dis" is meaningless. "Use words" we plead. "Talk to us, Henry." "Don't say 'dis.'"

And then, today, it suddenly hit me. I knew what "dis" meant. To demonstrate how I arrived at this epiphany, let me share a typical "conversation" between Henry and us, his parents.

Henry: Dis, dis.

Us: Do you want this? (picking up a package of crackers). Do you want this? (picking up his blanket). Do you want this? (picking up a book).

Henry: Dis, dis.

Us (frantic): Don't say dis. What do you want? Use words! Do you want this? (frantically pick up whatever remaining item is within arm's reach). Do you want this? (repeated again, exasperatedly).

Henry (pointing): Dis.

Sometimes it's instructive to shut-up and listen to yourself talk. Instead of pleading with Henry to "use words", I should have been using words. Words like blanket, crackers, book. How can I expect him to distinguish among these items when I use the same word to describe them all?

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life where a father, suspecting his son is doing drugs, decides to tap the phone. The father records dozens of his son's phone calls, which confirm his suspicions to be true. When the son discovers his father has learned of his drug use, he fears the punishment. He is surprised when all his father requires of him is to listen to all of the taped phone conversations. And, oddly enough, that's all it takes to change the son's behaviour. He said that listening to himself on the recorded conversations made him embarrassed - he hadn't realized how stupid he was being - and he changed.

Conventional wisdom says that the key to being a good conversationalist is to be a good listener. We usually assume that this means listening to the other person involved in the conversation. We seldom think about listening to ourselves, to what we are saying and how we are saying it. It's not such a bad idea to stop talking and listen to what you're saying. You may find you have something to teach yourself.


Kristen said...

You're right, when we realize what we are saying, it sounds strange. I always wonder what our kids think of us sometimes. We are in the same boat with the verbal communication (Jonathan is 21 months and says the same things. He loves to draw snakes, lines on a piece of paper). Hey, have you ever thought of sign language? Totally helps us.

Sadie Joy said...

Kim you are a very insightful and wise soul. Its been a treat to read your beautiful words, you are an amazing writer. That little Henry is way too cute- puts most kids to shame. We miss you and hope you and yours are doing well.
much love

Marci said...

Ah the joys of parenting! Annika is 3.5 yrs old and just barely starting to speak good english! There are still days that I look at her and say I don't know what you are saying can you show me? And a lot of times Alison and Lisa have to translate for me! It's great!

Stacy & Mike said...

Amen sister! In school I was taught to repeat what I understood the other person saying and then ask," Am I understanding you correctly?" If not then they will correct. It's usually correcting themselves or being more specific or precise after hearing their words repeated back to them(somewhat like the druggie son) so that understanding takes place. Mike and I also use that with one another or our child. We have been amazed by how fast we want to be understood but don't take the time to use the correct words to express it. It is my belief that there is no better skill than communication. It would solve world wide problems. "Dis oil, dis amunition, dis war, dis scandel dat scandel, dis pollution.... Love the epiphany!
Ps. I am so excited about you coming that I am tempted to call you right now and it's almost 11:00pm. Call me tomorrow!!!

Stacy & Mike said...

pss. I didn't know you listened to American Life... I am a huge fan!

Daniel, Lyndsie and Makai said...

Kim--It's Lyndsie Garrick. I just found your blog! We recently entered the blogging world, and I love it. What a way to stay in touch with people! Anyway, I loved reading yours. You are such an entertaining writer. Henry is so cute! Traci said he is a little ball of energy. Hope all is well. Here is our blog:
Take care!

jdm said...

I really love this post because I can see myself doing the same thing. Now after reading this hopefully I can avoid the "this situation".
I also really like the way that you look at both sides to each issue. That is something that I really struggle with but it seems to get the best results. I need to wrk on it.

Brekke said...

Hi Kim! I just found your blog. It's been so long. Henry is adorable.

I can empathize with your struggle. I am trying to communicate with a 1 year old. I think it becomes much easier when you try to understand from their point of view.

Check out my blog at: