Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wordygirl Jr.

Gwen is very, very verbal. She is just over two years old and it is very rare for her to speak in anything less than full sentences. I am frequently greeted with, "Hi, Mama! You have a good day at work?" or told, "Mama not sit there, that Gwen's spot." She is very good at saying thank you (or 'thanks') without being reminded, and thanks to a lot of hard work and consistency on our part since my last post on the subject, 'please' has improved a great deal as well. We are now working on 'putting it together', i.e.:

Gwen: Want a taste.
Mama: What's the magic word?
Gwen: Please.
Mama: Put it all together, please.
Gwen: Want a taste, please.

We are pretty used to her advanced verbal skills, but when we are around other people and especially other parents they often express surprise and amazement at the length of her sentences and the extent of her vocabulary. A lot of kids, it seems, are just at the two- or three-word combination stage at this age.

I've noticed a strange phenomenon in myself, and it's that phenomenon, rather than Gwen's awesomeness, that is really at the heart of this post. See, whenever another parent comments on Gwen's verbosity, especially to draw a comparison between Gwen and his/her own child, I immediately feel quite awkward and even somewhat ashamed and guilty. My usual response is to downplay it and say something to the effect of, "Oh, sure she can talk, but there are LOTS of things she isn't very good at," followed by a list of skills Gwen has yet to master (topping this list is the ability to ingest any kind of food or drink without the surrounding area bearing far more evidence of said food product than has possibly entered the actual child). But why shouldn't I puff out my chest and be proud of my kid? She is certainly worthy of praise and pride. Why does it make me feel so uncomfortable when someone else draws attention to traits of which I am already well aware?

I think this dates back to the first year of her life, when all of us new parents were so anxious and stressed out about whether our kids were healthy and normal. Whenever I got together with my mommyfriends, the conversation was peppered with questions: is your child sleeping through the night? Does she roll over? Does he push up? How often does he eat? Is your child sitting up yet? On and on and on, we'd compare one child to another - not with the purpose of making anyone feel bad, but usually with the hope of reassuring one another. Max* doesn't sit up yet, so it's okay that Gwen doesn't either. Charlie* still nurses every hour, so it's alright that Emma* does too.

And where there were differences, we'd explain them away. Alright, so Brenna*'s really good at fine motor skills, but she shows no interest in talking. Gwen is a great crawler, but she can't sit. Reilley* can drink from an open cup all by himself, but refuses to hold a fork. If one mom was worried about her child not meeting a certain milestone, we other moms were always quick to point out the areas in which that child was ahead of the others. "They all learn different things at different times," we told each other (and ourselves).

*All these names belong to our actual baby friends, because I'm bad at making up names, but the statements about what they could or couldn't do are completely made up, because who can remember?

I guess those instincts are still at play, because if a mom comments on Gwen's verbal brilliance, I don't want her to look at her own child and find him or her lacking. I immediately step in to point out that there are probably lots of things her child does that Gwen can't do. I would never want my child to be the source of a parent's worry.

It also reminds me, though, of how I used to hide my own intelligence when I was younger - and if I am honest, I still do this as an adult. As an elementary school student, I quickly learned that being smart doesn't win you any popularity contests, and it definitely doesn't get you a boyfriend. In fact, even the teachers are liable to dislike you if you show yourself to have a brain in your head. So when I downplay my daughter's intelligence by brushing off compliments about her language skills, I wonder if I am setting her up to be ashamed of how smart she is.

After reflecting on all this, I experimented. The next time someone complimented Gwen's lengthy sentence structure, I responded, "Yes, she is really good at language. It's definitely her strong suit." And then I forced myself to stop there, and not temper this with any apologies for her brilliance.

It was difficult, but not as hard as I thought it would be. And I have a feeling the next time will be even easier. I think a lot of people (women, particularly) have difficulty accepting a compliment graciously - it's not that different to try and accept a compliment on your child's behalf.

Parents, how do you feel when someone compliments your child's skills? How do you respond?


Sally said...

I'm not a parent, but I suspect there's a balance to be found between arrogance and humility. It suspect it's contextual. :)

Tricia said...

Yep, it's the hardest thing in the world to accept any compliments. With Reilley, it's been mostly how handsome, adorable etc. he is. I used to say "Yep, he turned out pretty good." Now I try to remember to simply say "Thank you." I don't know that there is a difference per-say, but I feel that I'm acknowledging the compliment better when I just say thank you. And if he's complimented on his skills I will add a comment about how amazing it is that every child is different.

I remember those first months when it did almost seem like a competition as to who was doing what and I found that I was half re-assured and half back in high school comparing grades! I had to keep reminding myself that it was good just to get together to talk to another adult, not worry about being judged.

We should feel good about what we're doing and how our kids are developing because good god, we've been through pregnancy and labour, we REALLY did make this! I'm always fit to burst with pride whenever I write Reilley's name on anything -- it's totally weird and totally true!

Keep up those language skills Gwen, they'll get you through anything! And so what if you're a messy eater, you're enjoying it!!! You've got a good start on a healthy relationship with food.

So, that's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

My daughter has always been very verbal too and I didn't realize how awkward it could be until a friend told me excitedly about how her three year old had just learned to count to ten. I praised how wonderful he was and then kept to myself that my little girl, who was 20 months could count to 10 as well. I don't know if many of my friends know that she can do this as I feel like I am bragging or comparing just by expressing excitement about it. When people comment on how well she talks and how clear her sentences are I say something like "Well, our theory is that she has slept so little when she was younger that she got a lot more practice developing her language skills while she was awake!" I have stopped saying that and now reply "Yes, she has always been a talker!" I have given a lot of thought to why I feel the need to downplay her abilities and came to a realization. She is her own person and her abilities are her own. When people compliment her they are not complimenting me! As her mother it is my responsibility to help her develop healthy self esteem and by seeming embarrassed or awkward about her accomplishments I am not helping either of us! I don't think anyone would begrudge you smiling at her and saying "Yes she is, we are very proud of her!"

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add my perspective from the other side of the spectrum. When I give compliments to other parents they are always genuine, and I am thrilled to see the progress of the little ones I have known since they were tiny babies... every time I see a new stage of development I feel full of pride for my friends children. Each stage is so exciting and interesting to watch. I offer compliments with no thoughts of comparison to my own child but sometimes the compliments I give are taken that way and that can be frustrating too! If I say "Wow, she is talking so well!" and my friend replies "Well, yours talks well too... doesn't she?" I don't know how to respond because I was trying to pay a complimement that had nothing to do with comparisons or my child. Or if I comment on another child's hair it is because I genuinely think it is beautiful... I am not comparing it to my child's hair but it is always taken that way. One day I made a comment that I was surprised my daughter was often mistaken for a boy because she was very small boned and slender and to me looked quite girly... I went on to say that she wasn't sturdy and boxy feeling like..." (I was gong to say most of the little boys I had met) but a friend cut me off and said "Like my daughter is?" I was speechless because I would never have thought that way - I just don't make comparisons like that. The conversation went on and I had no opportunities to correct my friend but felt terrible. We should just take comparisons out fo the equation and celebrate the unique and beautiful little people who are in our lives!


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