A DEAR friend, who is engaged and poised to be a Mum some day, recently confessed to me that she is hopeless at talking to my two-year-old son.
She recounted a conversation she had with Julian once, when I got up and left them alone at the lunch table.
Her: "Hi Julian. Er, what is your favourite subject at school?"
Him: (Blank stare) "..."
Her: (Determined to plough on) "Do you like Chinese or mathematics?"
Him: (Looks around in desperation) "..."
(Enter Mummy Clara, silent sighs of relief)
Recorded like this, it takes on the appearance of an absurdist script worthy of Harold Pinter. But my friend told me later that she felt so silly and embarrassed after that.
"I just don't know how to talk to young kids!" she lamented.
I agree with her that conversing with babies and toddlers - while it comes naturally to the lucky few - is often an art that needs to be acquired. And the reason why singletons rarely try to take on the daunting task is that talking to tykes can be an undignified affair.
Here's my guide for the kiddytalk-challenged:
You generally have to speak in a high-pitched voice and be enthusiastic
BABY manuals advised me early on that babies respond better to high-pitched voices. So it's really no accident that mothers use their hey-let's-have-fun upper register.
In public, I find myself speaking louder than usual. It's not as though my kid has problems with his hearing. Plus, there's a compulsion to raise one's voice above the hubbub in case the precious offspring is intent on ignoring you.
I find that keeping up a constant stream of babble - mostly commentary on what we're doing or where we're going - can sometimes stun my child into an entertained stupor, keeping him from mischief. This technique sometimes earns me weird stares. But I really don't care.
Catchy rhythms, goofy sounds and funny songs do the trick
AGAIN, other adults may find you strange. Kids will find you silly - in a good way.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Sweetie)
DON'T use big words and abstract concepts that most kiddies can't grasp. If all else fails, just grab them and give them a smacking kiss on the nose or cheek. They love it.
Repetition is key
THE content is not vital. Often, "Hey, look at (insert mundane object here)! Do you like it?" works well.
Unlike some of the dates I've had, some kids don't like questions that put the attention on them too much at first. So focus on neutral things or draw their attention to something interesting you have.
And if the kid you are addressing remains unresponsive, just have the conversation with yourself, supplying both questions and answers. Repeat the drill whenever the fancy takes you (or at least twice).
After a gazillion times, the child may pipe up and parrot you. Be patient, the process can take weeks or months.
At the end of the day, if you smile at them and give off good vibes, kids don't care if your juvenile wit is less than stellar.
Many wee ones will probably be content to sit in companionable silence and string daisy chains with you.
And that surely beats making small talk with some big people.
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