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Before I became a mother myself, I was a silent observer of the moms and kids around me. Earlier sympathizing with the kids, but now with the parents. I always pondered as to how much a child of specific age actually understood? My thoughts mostly being around the infants and toddlers-who were sometimes treated as royal descendants and sometimes simply scowled or scolded at by the same parents. In both the situations, most of the times, the infants’ reaction was the same. But the toddler seemed uncomfortable in the second situation. Depending on the language cognizance of the child, and his understanding of body language, the reactions varied from frown, to outbursts and to total meltdowns. The return to normal state of mind was quick in some kids, but it took ages for some other kids. In some cases the parents tried and succeeded immediately to pacify the toddlers by talking them out. While in some cases the parents struggled with the situation. I used to wonder, the kids who calmed down immediately, did they actually understand what their parents were trying to tell them?
After discussing with many parents and understanding the divide between "kids understand everything" and “kids don't really understand everything", I decided to experiment with my own child in this regards. To check how much exactly does the young mind absorb? I decided to talk to her and treat her like she knows the language and understands everything, right from day one. I did the regulars like, telling her stories, singing rhymes, like every mom does but I also went ahead and described every action that I was performing in front of her. Like, I used to tell her, if I was cooking her meal or putting on TV or doing the laundry or even putting on shoes or taking her stroller out or anything and everything. The intention being she gets familiar with what the objects around her are called and also knows the words for actions that I was doing.
It was indeed tiring in the beginning to follow this drill meticulously but it paid off very well. I started reading out books to her from a very early age (3 months). The basic alphabet board book soon became her favorite along with some story books. Then I went ahead describing characteristics of each object from her books and also nature and emotions of characters from her picture story books and also reasoning situations and things to her. I was skeptical in the beginning as to how much she would absorb, but she startled me very soon. By the age of 9 months she had a strong vocabulary of more than 80 words. What I mean here is, even if she couldn't say all of them, she recognized the objects from her alphabet book and the characters from her story books. And to my surprise, she could rightly turn to the page where the bunny in her book was happy and where he was sad. When I used to open a page from her book and throw questions like, "what is green in color, has red beak, loves nuts and talks like us when taught?” she would rightly point at the parrot on the page. The drill became an exciting game for both of us. She picked up the language very fast and could easily complete simple tasks when told. At age of 1.4 years she had no difficulty understanding and following instructions like “Put your shoes in the rack” or “keep your used cup or plate back on the platform”. This whole process also helped us to get her to sit and concentrate for some time on a particular task. She developed liking for books. And enjoyed sitting and solving jigsaw puzzles too. Her energy was channelized and I was happy about it. It helped me more when she understood the “DONTs”, like “it’s not safe to stand too close to the elevator” or “it’s not safe to run around on the road” or “don’t touch the hot tea cups” or “this food is spicy”. The task to protect her from these simple mishaps was easier because she understood what I was trying to tell her.
So then I started observing kids of my daughter’s age and interacted with them during the common playtime. I realized that although they could not talk or express accurately but they clearly understood what I was talking about. Simple things like “throw the ball” or “sit on the chair” were very common but their moms were surprised when they saw their own kids responding to “Do you like songs? “ or “which one of the ball is yours, the big one or small one? “.Their moms were happy that the kids reacted and answered correctly but were surprised because they never asked them such questions because the mothers always thought “the kids don’t really understand everything”.
So the whole point is, we should teach and treat the kids (any age) as if they understand everything. Hear them out and not ignore them. Respect them. They would reciprocate the same way.
We should put the younger ones into situations where they can make simple decisions like “Do you want more rice or roti? “. Let them think and answer. Start giving them choices (where you can fulfill them and doing so does not involve out of the way effort) so that the complex decision making process helps develop their brain faster and better. Parents interacting with kids continuously really helps the kids with their language skills and interpersonal skills too. They learn to express themselves better and this keeps them happy and satisfied, instead of being cranky out of frustration that the parents don’t really understand what the he or she is trying to say. Finally keeping in mind that each child is unique and develops at his/her pace parents should not pressurize kids in performing. But certain basic qualities that humans require- like talking, expressing yourself and similar ones can be imbibed through continuous training starting at early age. Although some kids might have it naturally which comes out of their individualistic nature. Parents should do their part. Discretion has to be used in all situations. And again the earlier those little minds are trained the better it is for parents to handle their kids in all moods, good or bad.
Finally it will be a blessing for a parent if the child understands that he is hungry and is able to say so at the age of two.