7 Ways to Get Your Village on Board to Promote Your Toddler's Language Development
7 Ways to Get Your Village on Board to Promote Your Toddler’s Language Development
If you’ve been reading my blog or have read My Toddler Talks, you know I value routines and consistency. Toddlers need consistency and familiar routines to thrive. To further encourage your toddler’s language development, consistency amongst the village is also needed. Since these trusted members are helping to raise and care for your precious little one(s), they should also know how to develop your toddler’s communication.
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If grandpa, who babysits in the afternoon, immediately gives Joey what he wants each time he utters, “ah ah”, then he probably needs to be instructed on what he should do instead.
If your babysitter, who watches Ava twice a week, struggles to understand her, she needs to know how best to communicate with Ava. For instance, Ava may communicate best when you pause and give choices, rather than ask complicated open-ended questions.
BUT - How can you share information and suggestions without alienating your village? How can you effectively communicate all the tips and tricks your child’s speech therapist shares with you or the ones you’ve read in My Toddler Talks?
Since I use my village to support my own toddler’s language development, I had the SAME questions and concerns. Before I wrote this post, I did some brainstorming and research and then implemented my own recommendations. I didn't just want to share my own advice so I also interviewed two amazing mothers of children with speech delays, Meg M. and Rebecca Ishum. How many times have you read books, articles, and blog posts written by “experts” who seem to be a little out of touch with the everyday demands of parenting or just life in general? I wanted to share real perspectives.
Meg M. is the mother of two young boys, one who just turned 3 years old and has autism. She has an incredible blog, My So-Called Blog, where she reveals her joys, adventures, and challenges of being a mother, how she came to accept her child’s diagnosis of autism, as well as sharing much needed inspiration and encouragement. I also interviewed Rebecca Ishum, creator of A Beautiful Ruckus, and the mother of adorable quadruplets all who receive or have received speech therapy. She chronicles the amazing development of her quad and shares how she manages a busy household, coordinates therapies, survives mealtime and gives many helpful tips and tricks on how to take care of multiples.
These two mothers are blessed to have the support of fantastic villages. Their villages consist of family, friends, therapists, teachers, and in Rebecca’s case, her church community. I asked Meg and Rebecca open-ended questions on HOW their village lends a hand in supporting their children’s language development and communication. Their thoughtful responses are intermingled throughout my post.
In the process of trying out my own suggestions, I learned a valuable lesson in the process…but, wait. I’ll share it at the end.
Let’s get started.
1. Increase awareness in your village.
In my previous post, I shared this tip as a teaser. First off, your village needs to become mindful of your toddler’s language and communication. Do this by planting the seed – ask questions and make comments. I do this with my daughter’s babysitter and daycare teacher (who, by the way, are wonderful). I simply ask: “Have you noticed any new words or sounds?” Then I ask it again and again. I’m mindful not to be *too* annoying. I do it just enough so they know it’s something I’m interested in. Here are some other things I mentioned in my previous post:
Ask your village, “What have you found helps Janice to communicate? Others may notice things you haven’t and their insight is valuable. Or, ask, “What do you think it means when Henry does this or does that?” Sometimes just asking thoughtful questions helps others become more mindful of certain behaviors or situations. Or, remark, “I’ve noticed that whenever I do X, Mary is more likely to do Y. Have you seen that too?” Increasing awareness is the one of the first steps needed to make change, to break old habits and to form new ones.
2. Encourage open and honest communication.
The best way to have and maintain a mutually respectful relationship is to encourage open and honest communication. This sounds like a lot of fluff. But, think about it. Do you ask your village for input and feedback? Do you accept their opinions, even if they’re different from yours? Rebecca strives for open and honest communication with her village. She states:
“Communication is one of the most important tools in your tool box. Don't be afraid to ask others for what you need, gently guide them in the best ways to help your kids, and update them regularly. Most people who aren't in a situation like this don't realize the ins and outs, and honestly, I think it scares them a bit. Be open to questions, freely share the answers, and that transparency will ultimately benefit your child the most.”
I love that Rebecca mentioned transparency in her response. Transparency is so important to the health and well-being of any relationship. If you’re not being transparent with your village, then what are you being? I also love how she pointed out, “I think it scares them a bit”. I remember the uncertainty and consequent anxiety I had in graduate school when I was about to treat my first client in clinic. Of course I did my research and had a game plan, but I was still scared because I really had no experience and was terrified of making mistakes. Fortunately, my clinic supervisors at Montclair State University were amazing. They openly and honestly communicated with me. They didn’t just tell me what to do (because rarely does that work when learning a new skill) they asked thoughtful questions to encouraged dialogue and self-reflection. This leads to my next point…
3. Provide your village with positive and specific feedback.
A few weeks ago, I read an insightful article in Inc. Magazine entitled (or titled) 17 Things Happy People Say Every Day. Author, Bill Murphy Jr. states:
“ Your words are among your greatest tools, so you can have an outsize effect on others simply by thinking about what you say every day and making an effort to be both positive and sincere. There are certain inspiring things that truly happy people find themselves saying to others all the time. Try making an effort to say a few of these every day for a week. You'll be amazed at how the positivity you create improves your happiness.”
I want a happy village. I immediately thought about how I could use Murphy’s statements when communicating tips and suggestions with my village. I found the following statements to be most effective in expressing my appreciation but also a fantastic way to carefully share tips and suggestions without hurting feelings or stepping on anyone’s toes:
“You might not realize this, but..." Then, I fill in how they used a technique or did something to help my child communicate.
“You really impress me when…” Then, I fill in a specific action performed to help Kerri communicate.
“I’d like to hear your thoughts about…” Who doesn’t feel at least somewhat honored and more appreciated when asked their opinion or feedback? I know I do. Better yet, you might learn something in the meantime.
What other positive statements can you say to spread happiness and encourage open and honest communication? Please share and comment below. To read Murphy’s article, click here.
4. Explain how your child communicates.
Even a child who is not yet communicating with words has some mode of communication. It may not be functional. It may not be intentional. It may not be easily understood. But, it’s there. A majority of times, perceptive parents can understand what their child wants or needs even if they’re not yet talking. If your child communicates in an unusual or unique way, share that vital information with your village. For instance, tell them that when Henry opens and closes his hands it means he wants to listen to his favorite song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Whey they are privy to such information, they can more meaningfully and purposefully respond.
As mentioned previously, Meg’s 3 year old son, Finn has autism, but he also has childhood apraxia of speech. According to Meg, Finn communicates by making “a lot of happy sounds” and also using a PECS board, particularly at school. Meg encourages everyone to respond to these sounds with verbal praise and reinforcement because she wants to ensure that some older members of her family know that “these squeals and squeaks are not "whining" but the only way Finn can use his voice right now.” I love that Meg advocates for her child’s budding communication skills. Finn needs encouragement to keep making his happy sounds so that they can eventually grow into happy words and phrases!
5. Share language development tips and strategies.
Before I share my suggestions on how to share tips with your village, I want you to brainstorm. Ask yourself – what’s the most efficient and effective way for me to share tips - without driving myself crazy? Meg and Rebecca have much gratitude and appreciation for their villages but both would admit that getting everyone on the same page can be quite a task. So, how can you do it?
Everyone’s village is different so what you decide to do is personal. I would recommend not inundating newly minted village members with tips and strategies all at once. First, build their awareness by following tip #1, next implement tip #2 and explain how your child communicates and then slowly start sharing tips and strategies (don’t forget to incorporate the techniques from tip #3). I think the best way to share a tip is in an intimate one-on-one setting. Since my village is small compared to others, I can afford the time to do this. I personally show how to perform a strategy and then have the village member recap and do it themselves. We’ve had to do this Kerrigan’s eating and feeding schedule. Once all my members have been introduced to a strategy or technique, then I write it down and post it on the fridge or push pin board. I also recommend this with my clients.
How you communicate tips and strategies will change as your child/children age and mature. This was the case for Rebecca:
“When the kids were itty-bitty, it was absolutely imperative that everyone followed the guidelines for our kids. Things like teaching them to swallow and eat, stretching our son's neck to help with torticollis, and dealing with the monitors and oxygen tanks required that our helpers be extra vigilant around our kids. We had signs posted everywhere with directions, timelines, and measurements. We also made sure that we walked each and every person through the procedures. Often, they were really nervous walking into our special needs quadruplet situation, but those few minutes spent giving them the tour, explaining everything slowly, and answering questions, quickly helped to put them at ease. It was time-consuming and repetitive for us, but we found that overwhelmingly, people wanted to help us help our kids, and that was the best way to start. What a blessing!
Here’s my list of various ways to share tips and strategies :
Explain the strategy.
Show them the strategy.
Have them perform the strategy.
Have them observe a speech therapy session.
Tell them what works for your child.
Tell them what doesn’t work for your child.
Send out a mass email with updates.
Start a blog. Interestingly, both Meg and Rebecca use blogging as a way to share updates and progress with their villages. Just something to think of…Blogging, which can be anonymous, is a wonderful way not only to decimate information but also to release pent up emotions, thoughts and frustrations.
Share a video update. This was Meg’s idea and I thought it was great!
Post reminders and guidelines. When Kerrigan was having severe stomach problems, we were diligent about posting foods that she was to avoid. We displayed them on the fridge so that anyone at any time could easily and quickly read it.
Write a manual or keep a journal. While Rebecca no longer has signs posted around the house, she has written an “Ishum Quads Manual”. Rebecca explains, “In it, I cover everything from how to calm our hyper-sensitive child, to who gets which loveys, to how to work the TV/DVD remotes. It's primarily a resource for when we leave our kids with others, but several friends have read through it just to make sure they know everything that is going on.”For children with severe speech and language delays, writing a “manual” may prevent having to repeat yourself ten times and also give you some peace of mind. Or, you could keep a journal that everyone can access and write in.
Have an additional tip? Please share in the comments.
6. Be flexible.
I have to be totally honest here. I’ve never considered myself to be a controlling type person. Then, I had a daughter. And, not only did I have a child, I had a child who didn’t sleep or eat because of reflux and food sensitivities. As a result, we didn’t sleep. It’s not pretty when everyone’s sleep deprived! Luckily, she’s gotten much better. I thought if I could control every little thing and everyone in my village, then my daughter would eat and sleep. That didn’t really work though. Not only will you go crazy trying to control every little detail, interaction, situation, or member, you’ll also alienate your village. Many of my clients and former clients, especially those whose children have autism, have almost burnt out trying to control and constantly teach others how to interact with their child. Here, Meg explains her own situation:
“It can be extremely nerve wracking for both of us when we are separated, because I understand him completely, whereas other people less familiar with him may not. Even though he doesn't speak, he communicates with me very clearly by using leading and gestures. He is very intentional, and when someone doesn't understand what he wants it can be frustrating. I have learned over time that I can't control all of these interactions and that I can't control how family, friends, and caregivers communicate with Finn. I have learned that there is no "right way", and it's important for Finn to learn to communicate in a variety of ways with a variety of people, not just me. …It's also important for me, like I mentioned before, to be laid back about Finn's interactions with others. If at the root of it everyone loves him and treats him with respect, then I have found that Finn feels confident enough in himself to communicate with all kinds of other people and get his point across.”
Can you relate to Meg’s situation? I certainly can. And, I know many other parents who can too.
7. Respect and appreciate your village
In today’s society we seem to value our worth by our “busyness”. A few weeks ago I read the following statement shared by Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child Care, “Stop the glorification of busy.” I have to shamefully admit, for a majority of my adult life, I have glorified busy. I find that when you glorify busy though, you appreciate your time with others less. You rush through interactions and do everything in haste because you’re always thinking of the next thing to do. You don’t have time to appreciate because you’re too busy. As a result, relationships and friendships suffer. There are many ways to respect and appreciate your village. How do you or will you respect and appreciate your village?
In closing, I want to thank Meg and Rebecca for so graciously answering my questions and sharing their experiences. They have amazing villages but more importantly they are amazing parents. Interviewing these mothers helps me to remember that at the end of the day, parental involvement is the most important factor in your child’s development. Rebecca emphasizes this too:
"I think the best advice that I can give to parents who have kids with developmental delays is this: You are your kids best advocate. No one knows them and loves them more than you!"
PS - Feel free to share this post with your village!
Other posts that may interest you:
It Takes a Village: Getting Everyone on Board to Support Your Toddler's Language
Early Intervention for Toddlers: How to Include Siblings
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