Sunday, January 8, 2012

My little experiment

I remember saying years ago, that one of the reasons I wanted to have children was so that I could 'experiment' on them. Now before you call the authorities, what I really meant was I wanted to try some of the parenting techniques that I'd heard about & see how they worked. I wanted to raise a child to be tolerant, creative & curious. (Still do, in fact) I wanted to try new things & be the best parent I could. I had all kinds of misconceptions about how much impact parenting actually has on how kids turn out.

Now that I'm here with the personal experience, plus a few psychology courses on childhood development & a lot of parenting books under my belt, I have a different perspective. Children are NOT blank slates when they're born. They come with a built-in temperament that we can't change as parents. This is never more clear than when comparing identical twins like my nieces. They're the same age, raised in the same home, with the same upbringing--they even look so much the same that I still have to rely on clothing colour to tell them apart--yet they've had two clearly distinct personalities from very early on.

Sprout has taught me to be more patient when it comes to how much impact I can have on his development. He has, from the beginning, been in the late end of the range on most skills related to mobility. As directed, I diligently put him on his belly to help him develop neck & core strength so he could learn to crawl. He hated tummy time & would tolerate it for less than a minute. He much preferred to lie on his back or sit propped in a chair. I gave up on it once he got better at sitting. Sitting, he loved. He never showed any interest in rolling, either. I could probably count on my fingers the times he rolled over before nine months. Keeping up with the theme of being uninterested in going anywhere, he was fairly late to crawl, only really getting going off his belly at 11 months old. Fast forward to 17 months: he's taken about ten steps on his own in the past week. I'm beginning to wonder if he'll be using sentences before he's really walking more than three wobbly steps at a time. "My little experiment" has a mind of his own & going places is not at the top of his list!

As fun as it's been to see Sprout hit the milestones like sitting, crawling, walking & teething, nothing holds a candle to watching Sprout start to talk. After taking a linguistics course on first language acquisition last spring, I was eagerly awaiting his first forays into language usage. Waiting, & waiting & waiting... He started gradually, like he tends to do everything. There's no date where I'd say he spat out his first word, it just crept up on us. He said Mama & Papa once in a while for months before he clearly started to use them as names for us. He was also gesturing to things & saying dah  for months, but does it really count as a word?

The turning point was when he said dog; I started listening carefully & really focussing on language with him. I've been keeping a list of the words he's used. (this record-keeping really kind of makes it feel like an experiment) I'm resisting making everything into a naming fest with a pronunciation lesson, trying to be more natural & let him lead. Rather than drilling him on everything I see, I try to focus on what he's interested in. That's one thing I took away from the course last spring: the best way to help your kid start talking is to read to them lots & talk to them lots, particularly about things they're interested in, rather than 'teaching' what you think they should know.

It seems like Sprout's acquisition of words has been speeding up & we are fast approaching what I learned about in my first ever linguistics class years ago: the Word Spurt. Much like a growth spurt, kids just start picking up & using tons of words every day. This usually occurs when they've got about 50 words, somewhere between 18 months & age two. (Here's an interesting article on some research explaining the word spurt, from a few years back.) The last couple of days he's started repeating words I say to him. Often he'll keep saying the word & even start to use it to identify things or ask for something. At dinner, I asked him if he wanted more pasta, "More?" & he repeated, "Mo! Mo!", so I gave him a second helping. After he scarfed that down, he said it again, "Mo! Mo!" & I got him some more. This happened about four times & it wasn't the first word he'd started using that day.

I'm excited that Sprout seems to be a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to language development, as he's been in the slow end of the range on so many other things (except hair growth!). Part of me wishes I could claim some of the credit for it, but I haven't really done anything special. I read him a few stories every night before he goes to bed & sometimes during the day too when he wants to. But again, this is partly due to his temperament & interests: he likes to sit & look at books for extended periods of time (like 10-20 minutes). I talk to him & try to be as responsive as I can when he uses a word, particularly as a request. Maybe the age children start talking is partly a genetic thing? My mom tells me I started early & I know my nephew was stringing long sentences together by 20 months. Just like the late walking, early talking could just be a family thing.

Do you know when you started talking? Have you heard any funny family stories about your first sentence or maybe when you picked up a bad word?

1 comment:

  1. Seriously, my son could not focus for more than three minutes - and I am totally serious (I nearly lost my mind) until he was two. You probably have a more focussed, attentive child!


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