use your words!


This image, mouth of amanda by Bradley Gordon is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from flickr.

Words are important. But as adults, we sometimes assume a child’s needs instead of waiting for them to articulate themselves. It’s faster. It’s easier. And it often alleviates a lot of stress on both of our parts.

For me, I did it all wrong! (…And after last week’s discussion with my pubescent teen, I still haven’t perfected the art.) When my son was a wee one I gave in to his tantrums and screams by learning his language or anticipating his needs instead of challenging him to use words to communicate his desires. In the long run… I didn’t do him (or my family) any favors.

For the Wee Ones:

It’s crucial that we encourage children to use their words rather than grunting, pointing, or resorting to tantrums and outbursts. You can help your young child meet these goals by saying, “I don’t understand you when…”, “Mommy can’t hear you when you yell…” or [when pointing] “Do you want the milk or juice?” to prompt word usage. If tantrums persist, model the words you’d like your child to use. Approximating or attempting to use words is the beginning of communication. As long as you’re not pedantic about your expectations, your child will continue to practice and improve.

For more information read this article from the Hanen Centre for language development.

For the Puberty Stricken:

For our tween and teen children, choices don’t work as well. It can often give kids a way out. The best solution is to first empathize with them, “I know you’re sad about missing the birthday party…” or “I imagine you are hurt when you learned that people gossiped about you…” Empathy often promotes trust which will give your child the confidence to open up and share their real feelings. If not, some open-ended questions may help, “What other ideas do you suggest?” or “What alternatives would you make to your friends?” You an also utilize your own village to help you engage with your child. Having a dear friend or family member to dinner and having them gently probe your tween or teen for information can open up a world of conversation. For some parents, meeting their kids where they are with tech tools is a good solution. Creating a WhatsApp or chat group for the family can maintain open communication without face-to-face communication. Whatever solution works this week might not work the next, but keep at it. Your kid (and you) need it!

For more information on communicating with your teen, here’s a source my husband and I have turned to.



break it down

girl cutting

This image by Insights Unspoken is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from Flikr.

As adults we take for granted all the tasks we can do with ease. For you little ones, the simplest task requires a lot of thought, many (in order) steps, and a lot of patience.

Take, for instance, a simple school task like gluing two pieces of paper together. You and I can do it in mere seconds, but a young child can take up to 5 minutes to complete the job because of the sheer number of steps required. Break it down and look at all that you’re asking a child to do:

  1. get the glue stick
  2. take off the top
  3. put the top on the table flat so it doesn’t roll away
    • if it does roll away, you need to find it
  4. twist the bottom of the glue stick to release some of the glue
    • but if you unscrew it too much, you have to twist the other way to put the extra glue away
  5. hold down the paper with one hand
  6. position the glue stick in your hand so it touches the paper flat
  7. roll the glue across your paper
    • don’t push too hard or too light… you have to rub it just right
  8. now you can finally stick something to your paper
  9. tidy up after yourself


9 steps! Ridiculous, right? So why do we adults not just take the silly glue out of their hands and do it for them?

By doing menial tasks for our children, we’re telling them they are not big enough, not capable enough, or not good enough to do it themselves. And that’s not the message we’re trying to send.

So here’s today’s teacher pro-tip: slow down and let your child do the job themselves. You will need to show, teach, model, and reteach again and again and again, but once they get it, they’ll feel accomplished. And you will save yourself time as well.

Here are some of the things you can teach (and then expect) your 3-4 year old to do:

  • “make” the bed (not well, but they can pull up the blankets and make it “look” tidy–you can come back later and do it properly)
  • put on their clothes (with some support)
  • brush their teeth
  • go to the toilet (including taking off/on clothes, sitting/standing, flushing, and washing hands)
  • tidy up their toys
  • take their plate to the sink
  • put dirty clothes in the laundry basket
  • help set the table

My tweens are able to do all of the above and:

  • do laundry (wash, dry, fold, and put away)
  • make a balanced dinner for the family
  • make a healthy lunch for school
  • write a blog post or vlog to YouTube to teach the world something new
  • take out the trash
  • help take care of a pet
  • babysit a neighbors toddlers

So now the question is, what are you going to task your children with today? Start slowly by introducing one task at a time. If you want to know more about what you can expect your child to do at each developmental stage (from toddler to teenager), read about what the experts say.

You can thank me later.