I'm pretty good with children, if I do say so myself. But my skill pales in comparison to that of my mom.
We call Mom the Toddler Whisperer. Children actually flock to her at parks. They wave at her, and smile, and offer her bites of their food. This is an international phenomenon. When Mom went to China to support my aunt as she was adopting my cousin, a toddler came up to her in a restaurant and started chattering away in Chinese. Mom had no idea what the little girl was saying, but she did what she always does with children: She listened. And smiled. And made eye contact.
How often do adults talk around children? Not "around" as in close proximity, but "around" as in we allow the conversation to flow past the small people, not including them. How often do adults talk about children as if they're not present? How often do adults keep the interaction at their own eye level? And how frustrating must it be to get left out of meaningful human connection? No wonder children "bother" grown-ups so often. They just want in on the fun.
But when adults do take the time to talk to children, I've noticed that very often they talk too much. Or too quickly, or with unrealistic expectations.
Below is a "conversation" I overheard between a pre-school teacher and a 20 month old. I've put what I imagine were the pre-verbal child's thoughts in parentheses.
"Hey, kiddo. Do you want to paint a firetruck? (Nope, I'm happy playing in the kitchen.)
Do you? (Um... still no.) Come on, come over here and grab a paintbrush! (But I don't want... oh, ok.)
Put some red paint on it and paint a firetruck! (A what? Which one's red?)
What does a firetruck say? Weeeeeee-oooooo, weeeeeee-ooooo! (Why are you screeching at me?)
Oh, no, don't paint your hand, paint the paper! (Why not? This stuff feels neat; all slimy and cold.)
We're not doing finger paint today. (Yes, I am. See?)
Oh, you got some paint on my shirt. Say sorry. We don't paint teachers' shirts! (I was just showing you my red hand.)
Come on, let's wash your hands. (What? I thought we were painting today! I'm not done!)"
I hear variations of this between parents and their children, too. Please, for the sake of building a strong rapport with your child, slow it down. Let your child process what you have just said before you say something else. And use non-verbal communication: smile while you wait for an answer, tip your head attentively while you listen to that answer, and offer hugs to go with your acceptance of it.
Children are people, too. Talk with them. Listen to them. Show them they are important.
Because they are.