As parents of babies and small children, we are very anxious for our baby to talk. We listen carefully for their first words and hope it is Mama. Then we eagerly try to teach them words to help us know what they want or need.
Your little ones hear many more words than they are able to say. They begin to associate words with things around them and activities that happen. They recognize whether the tone is pleasant or tense or angry. All of this happens long before they can speak well.
I was just reminded about the effect of words spoken to or about us as children. Sometimes the echo of those words reverberate in us even to our old age. Nicknames can cheer or haunt us our whole lives. We must be very careful about the names we call our children. What sounds cute when they are little and is meant as a reminder of their sweet little baby behaviors can be very hard to live with as a teenager.
I know a mom who adopted several children from a foreign country. Thinking she would help her children be strong against the teasing she anticipated when they would go to school, she nicknamed them for their most different traits. She thought that if they got used to it at home, it wouldn’t hurt so bad later. For some of her kids it worked the way she expected. But for a few, it only made them feel more different and ashamed and isolated.
Unless it is a positive comparison that will help your child realize their potential, it is better not to use comparisons. Encourage your children to compete against themselves. By this I mean, saying things like, “Wow, look what you learned to do! Well done!” Comment on things they have done or attitudes they have, not on traits they have no control over, like their body type or intelligence.
One other caution about words. Words children hear in their environment are imprinted on their brains. Those words will pop out at random times. It is not just the words you speak directly to your child that they remember, but all the words being spoken in their presence. Pay attention to the vocabulary on the TV shows you watch or the music you play or your arguments with each other. Minimize their exposure to language you don’t want them to use.
Keep listening for your baby’s new words. Celebrate their achievements. And above all tell your baby how much you love him or her!