Although I might be repeating what the other good people have said, I will have a go at the topic myself.
It is about how you talk to and about children. I will at a later time also write about how you talk about yourself.
I have been tuned into this for a while now and at work I sometimes hear the teachers talking about the children in a way that implies that things are static and permanent (and nothing could be further from the truth). But it was a recent incident that made me want to explore the subject a bit more.
I and Little A hang out in several different mummy-groups. We don’t have anything in common, apart from having a child the same age, but I find it really refreshing to hang out with people I wouldn’t normally meet. Anyway, the other day, Little A was “talking” to a boy in the group. We, the mothers, were holding them up so that they could see each other. It is amazing to see how much they enjoy this kind of interaction with others at the same age as them. Little A can be quite vocal at times and won’t let the other baby get a word in edgewise. But this time he was bit more low-key and let the other baby lead the talk. And he did, he talked and A answered and so it went, back and forward.
All of the sudden, the other mother went:
-Oh, he is so shy with other babies.
I couldn’t spot the shyness and said that I didn’t think that he seemed shy now.
- No, perhaps not now, but he usually is.
This is quite innocent and not a big deal. But I will argue that if the mother continues to point out the baby’s shyness every time he has a social interaction, the child will be shy and not because of some innate shyness, but because that is the way he hears himself being talked about. Words are not just descriptive, they shape the way we look at the world and ourselves.
I have caught myself in doing something similar. Little A sleeps through the night but doesn’t sleeps as well during the day. Or so I thought. I have been telling people and myself that he seems tired but can’t fall asleep unless I rock him and when I put him down, he often wakes up again. One day, I could see that he was tired and I had to clean the bottles so I couldn’t carry him around. I put him down in his bed to go and fetch the baby carrier. He wasn’t overjoyed when I put him down, but nor was he upset. I came back, seconds later and he was asleep. Hmh…I thought to myself. This happened the next time he was due for a nap and the day after and the day after. All I had to do was to keep an eye on him and put him down when he seemed sleepy. And it worked, nap after nap.
Now, if I hadn’t put him down that first time, I might still be saying that he can’t fall asleep on his own during the day and I would be wrong. He can do it, I just hadn’t tried it.
I wish that all adults, but of course parents in particular would listen to themselves when they speak to and about their children. The next time you make a statement about your child, like “he is shy”, “she won’t sleep”, “he won’t take the bottle”, “she prefers her mum to her dad” etc., stop and think if 1. that statement is always true; otherwise change the sentence to “sometimes” and 2. think about if you are giving your child the possibility to do what you want them to do. If your child is not taking the bottle, for example, are you really doing everything you could be doing to help him or her? If the answer is no, but you don’t have the time or energy to do what it takes, then be honest and say that. I wish I would hear more parents saying things like “she doesn’t sleep during the night because every time she wakes up I feed her so that she will daze off again because I just want to go back to sleep straight away and that means that she has gotten used to eating more during the night than during the day” or “he won’t take the bottle because my partner doesn’t want to give it to him and when I do it, he can smell the milk on me and doesn’t want the bottle”.
I am not saying that children don’t have different personalities or different needs and preferences. What I am suggesting is that many of the things we consider being innate to the child, is actually something that we, as adults are creating.