This week and next I’m sharing some changes Chris and I have made in the past couple months to how we parent Gracie. On Tuesday, I talked about our new public time out. Today, I thought I’d share about one of the things we’re doing at home.
One of the things you all kept mentioning and that I remember from Bean when he was Gracie’s age is that this period of crying and whining and temper tantrums is common in two-year-olds because they lack the communication skills to be able to express what they want or need. Gracie knows baby sign language, but doesn’t use it very often. So, we started paying attention to how often she actually uses words to communicate. And it wasn’t often. Like, at all.
We had been aware of how little Gracie talked before we connected it with her frustration. We felt like Bean had spoken much more when he was Gracie’s age, but we tried not to compare them. It was more just a curious observation. But after I posted about Gracie’s temper tantrums and several of you suggested it might have something to do with her lack of ability to communicate, Chris and I really started paying attention to what Gracie could say and when she could say it.
What we discovered was that Gracie actually knew a LOT of words. When she was alone with us, she talked up a storm. But when Bean was around, suddenly she didn’t say a word. It wasn’t that she was unhappy around him – not at all! It’s just that he spoke for her so often, there was no reason for her to talk! We really didn’t realize how often we let Bean speak on Gracie’s behalf, but when we started noticing, it was ALL THE TIME!
For example, every night at the dinner table, Chris asks the kids what they did at school that day. Bean can answer in complete sentences and often goes into long stories (usually where he tattles on every one of his friends…). Now, Gracie isn’t even two yet, so she hardly understands the question. But we weren’t even giving her the chance to learn the habit of speaking when someone asks her a question, which is the real purpose of discussions with your little ones. It’s not so much about what they say or what you ask. It’s more about them learning how social interactions go. But Gracie wasn’t able to get that practice because Bean Man spoke for her all the time.
“How was your day, Gracie?” Chris would ask.
“Gooood!” she’d reply (mostly because she mimics what other people say, and “good” is a common answer).
“What did you do in school today?” Chris would ask.
“She colored and I saw her playing on the playground!” Bean would pipe up.
“Really???” Chris would ask Gracie. “You played outside????”
“Yeah!” she would say.
And while these little interjections by Bean aren’t that big of a deal, it does take away a speaking opportunity from Gracie. In that example, for instance, she was reduced to a mere two word response, which was sometimes just a head nod instead of actual words.
When we noticed it the most was when Gracie needed something.
“Mom! Gracie needs more juice!”
“Mom! Gracie’s shoe fell off!”
“Mom! Gracie wants to go outside!”
Gracie literally never asked for a thing around our house! Bean took care of it all, like the good big brother that he is. But what we were beginning to think was that maybe this was starting to impact Gracie’s ability to communicate. If she was hardly communicating on her own when everything was fine, then how would she ever learn to communicate on her own when she was upset?
We’ve started really making an effort to help Gracie speak for herself. We’ve done this in a few ways. First, we are trying to spend more one-on-one time with her. Either with one parent and only Gracie, or both parents and only Gracie. This not only gives her some undivided attention, which she was seeking, but it also gives her the chance to talk to us on her own. Mostly, though, it gives Chris and I a chance to see what she is actually able to say and what we need to work on. Turns out, she’s a talking machine! Girlfriend can communicate exactly what she wants or needs when she’s by herself, which was a real relief for us. And it led us to our second change.
Now, we make sure that when we ask Gracie a question or when Gracie has a need, she is the one who speaks. At the dinner table, we tell Bean he has to wait his turn to talk. We make sure we say it very nicely to him, of course. It isn’t his fault he helps her out too much! Bean Man isn’t doing anything wrong at all! He’s just being a good brother. But Bean has to learn that even though Gracie can’t use full sentences or carry on conversations, she still gets a chance to talk, just like him.
We also make sure that when he tells us that she needs something (juice, a diaper change, a toy, etc.), that we go talk to Gracie about it before we fulfill the request. So, if he tells us that Gracie needs more snack, we thank Bean for helping and then we go over to Gracie and say, “Can you tell me what you want, Gracie?” Sometimes she doesn’t answer, so we prompt her a little more by saying, “You want a snack Gracie? Snack? Can you say, ‘Snack, please?’” And then we wait for her to say, “‘nack, pees!” Taking just that extra bit of effort to help Gracie make the effort is helping so much.
My mom kept the kids this past weekend, and she was going on and on about how much more Gracie was talking. She said she talked all weekend long. And we are noticing the same thing at home. Now, Gracie is coming to us more and more to make her own requests. This has actually prevented a ton of meltdowns and hysterics! Now, she is able to tell us more about what she wants or needs BEFORE the situation erupts into a meltdown. It is also helping her problem solving skills because not only is she having to communicate, but she’s actually having to figure out WHAT to communicate.
“My cup is empty.” Before, this would have evoked a full on meltdown. Now, she’s figuring out that all she has to do it ask for more, and the problem is solved.
This change actually has very little to do with Gracie. It was more about a change that Chris and I needed to make in our awareness of our family. We had to start paying attention more to Gracie BEFORE there was a problem. We had to remind ourselves that just knowing her needs wasn’t enough. We had to start LISTENING to her express those needs. And that meant we had to start encouraging her to speak by making sure her environment was more aware of her. Honestly, it has not only eliminated a lot of temper tantrums, but it has helped us focus more on Gracie and learn more about her. And what we are learning is that Gracie is pretty darn awesome! She is smart and funny and quick, and I’m so glad we have finally gotten a better handle on our home life so that we get the chance to really see those traits in action.