Four months ago as I write this, I was sitting in the back seat of my daughter’s car next to my then 19-month-old granddaughter strapped into her safety seat. Her mother was driving.
“Mama, where are we going?” she called out.
“To one of your favorite parks,” her mother answered, and named the park.
“Oh, I love that. Caya is very excited,” the granddaughter said. Her name is Caya. “Are you excited, Mama?”
“Definitely, I am excited. Especially since I am with you and Bapi,” her mother answered. I am Bapi, which distinguishes me from Papi.
Today, I called my daughter and Caya, now 23 months, and asked Caya how she was feeling,
“I am feeling very happy,” she said.
At other times when I call, she might answer, “I am feeling upset at the moment,” or “I am feeling sad,” and then briefly explain. One time, she was sad because their puppy had hurt itself.
Preparing for Precociousness
Not two years old yet, she comments on just about everything she encounters, asks questions whenever she doesn’t know about something, can count to 100 and past, and has been able to recite the alphabet almost since she could talk shortly after her first birthday. Her pediatrician estimates she has a 15,000 word vocabulary. You can have a reasonable conversation with her. Most children her age have a 500-word vocabulary.
My main point here isn’t that my granddaughter was born precocious or emotionally aware. It is how she got to this place that has value to parents reading this. She learned her way to where she is because her parents tutored themselves in parenting best practices and brought some of their own natural inclinations for open discussion and sharing to talking to their children. In large part, they talked their daughter, my granddaughter, towards precociousness and emotionally awareness.
Talk to Children: The Science
To understand how that happened, let’s start with some relevant brain science:
The human brain has 500 billion neurons. If all the brain fibers could be put in a line, they would go round the world twice. By the age of four or five a child’s brain is about 85% developed. This powerful brain absorbs information that the child’s “conscious” part of the brain isn’t aware of, recording everything from words spoken to moods and visuals to patterns of behavior modeled by parents and others.
There is a famous story in medical lore of an adult patient who suffered brain damage in an accident and lost part of his memory. One day after his accident, he sat down at a piano and played a full Mozart concert, even though he had never played a piano or taken a lesson in his life. But he was a Mozart aficionado and had listened to Mozart recordings relentlessly in his life. Some knowledge of Mozart remained in his brain, below the level of conscious knowledge, until the accident helped surface it.
Talking Fills the Brain
So, it matters beyond measure what you feed your child’s brain, especially in these three areas: Information, Context and Emotional Awareness.
Here is what Caya’s parents do that you might consider in your parenting:
- First, they talk to Caya almost nonstop, sharing information, explaining the outside world and their own movements and intentions at the moment.
- They use imaginative playtime with Caya to share information and possibilities, such as choices a doll might like to make.
- They understand that the more words and definitions and possibilities they share, the more will be recorded in their child’s brain and the more neural circuits will be built, helping Caya deal with contingencies as she grows.
It can sound like this:
- “What’s Emma’s favorite color? What Is her favorite thing to do?”
- “I have a sense Emma likes to play outdoors and her favorite thing at the park is the sandpit. What do you think?”
My daughter does with Caya what I did with my daughter. I was frequently narrating and explaining the outer world to them even in their infant stages–“This is an oak tree. Like other trees, it converts carbon into oxygen” –knowing it was being absorbed. Her mother, my wife, shared freely about the relational world between people and within themselves.
Now, my daughter organically just does the same, even more so than her parents did with her. It makes a difference.
So, talk. A lot. Do not assume it is wasted on a child. It builds information circuits and crucial encouragement for a child’s development and self-expression as it grows.
The EQuip Our Kids! Store has several games and toys that you can use to fuel talking with your child.
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