Do you ever wonder what it’s like for a three-year-old child to understand words that come naturally to adults? I believe, a child has no idea what “adult communication” is. From the age of five, my daughter has said on more than one occasion, “Mom, I don’t know what that word means.”
For the first few years of life, communication through words is minimal at best. A toddler communicates through actions, facial expressions, and emotions. These skills are a learned behavior based on how we respond to the child’s nonverbal communication.
Let me share a personal example. When my children were young, my husband worked out of town four days a week. My youngest was three weeks old, my middle child was one and a half, and my oldest was three. I was exhausted and developed a tired, irritable attitude. My oldest daughter was learning how to talk and enjoyed being my “big helper.” One morning, she tried pouring herself a cup of milk and the cup slipped out of her hand, sending milk everywhere.
I got upset with her failing to recognize that she was taking responsibility by trying to help me. She began to cry uncontrollably. It wasn’t until after I cleaned up the mess that I realized the nonverbal messages I had given her. My tired, irritable facial expression and my tone of voice sent a message of confusion to her for taking responsibility.
Upon this realization, I felt horrible for the way I responded to what happened. I apologized and explained to her, in a language she could relate to, how much I appreciate her help. The next morning I fixed my mistake by making sure the container had enough milk for her to pour without spilling. I made a huge expression of encouragement and gratitude when she accomplished this.
Children like to help and they enjoy affirmations of love. Viewing the situation from my child’s perspective helped me gain clarity on why we had a misunderstanding. Talking to and guiding our children at an early age is important. Teaching a child to understand that things are not to be taken personally, provides an opportunity to show why certain situations are just “spilled milk.”
Below are some questions we can reflect on when a situation goes terribly wrong:
1. When have you felt a situation could have turned out differently if you had communicated properly?
2. If you could go back to your childhood what advice would you give yourself?
3. How do you find peace in awkward situations?
4. How does your child find peace?
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