Talking to Them on Their Level
That phrase is often misinterpreted to mean that parents should imitate the speech patterns of their kids when talking with said kids. Um, no. How many times have you seen some well meaning mother bent over with an overly goofy look of her face talking to her 2 year old as if she herself were two years old? I cringe whenever I see it. The stereotypical view is of mothers doing it, but I’ve also seen dads do it. It looks equally ridiculous either way. Although the baby talk flows fast and often with some parents, I also see the exact opposite, parents that dictate to their kids in a recruit/drill-instructor tone. And worse, they expect perfect grammar and manners from their little recruit. It isn’t fair to say all parents are like this because they aren’t; but there are enough that it warrants scrutiny. So let’s talk about the Goldilocks principal as applied to verbal communication.
This is the parent who verbally coddles their kid. Their intention is to sooth and to empathize with their kid. They see their role as a parent as a facilitator, somebody who is there to listen and be a translating machine for their child’s underdeveloped mental processing unit (Brain). They mistakenly believe that they can ease their child into the real world by making them feel comfortable at all times. The result of this sort of communication is that the kid will be slow to learn what it means to formulate a thought and organize the pieces of that thought into words that everybody understands. This parent does their kids no favors. Most of us have learned that a little discomfort is good because it forces change. That’s how people learn. If you’ve tried learning a new language you might be frustrated at first, but you’ll eventually get it as long as you have instruction that imitates real life.
This parent is much worse than the “too cold” parent. This is the parent that you find at youth football games yelling all the time and acting like a guy you want to kick in the balls. They talk to their kids in cold, distant, and usually, entirely too loud tones. They think of their kids as empty vassals that need filling up with their supreme wisdom. They never crouch when talking to their much shorter kids. In fact, they stand up straight and look down their noses while talking. They expect their kid, usually a boy, to respond in an exactly appropriate way. They show little empathy when their kid can’t quite keep up with what’s going on or think quickly enough to respond expediently and with correct grammar. Obviously there are very few parents who exhibit every trait of this “too hot” parent, but it only takes a few bad habits to make your kid think you’re a turd. When a kid feels too uncomfortable talking with their parents they will naturally clam up and become distant. When the time comes that the child needs to say something important and needs a shoulder to lean on, they will feel like there is nobody to turn to.
This is where we all want to be (even if it’s sometimes hard to achieve). Parents should talk to their kids like their kids are grown people, with the understanding that there will be many times the child will not understand and will require a pause for explanation. The phrase “Talk to them on their level” should be taken literally. Parents should physically get on the same level as their kids so they can have an eye to eye talk. That way the child feels like he has some reason to believe that his opinion bears weight. It should be done in a way that is neither condescending nor accommodating, rather with the same degree of respect that would be shown to another adult. When talked to with respect and authority kids will naturally be receptive to learning. Patience.
Life is a great balancing act. We never want to find ourselves too hot or too cold. We always want to be in the middle. Kids are just as unique as the rest of us and deserve the same degree of respect, and considerably more patience. They aren’t adults yet, but it won’t be long before they are, and they need all the training they can get.