Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Talking to toddlers: it's not an option, it's a necessity!

I was unfortunate enough to be stuck in an A and E department for 2-3 hours the other afternoon. The only thing to do was people-watch. There were several elderly  ladies who had had falls, a teenage girl who was constantly being sick, two workman who were limping and many more walking wounded. Among them was a mother and her baby with a rash, who was probably about 18 months. He was strapped in his pushchair with nothing whatsoever to occupy him. His mum was talking on her phone, texting, listening to music on her head phones and looking out of the window which was too high up for him to see.

He had nothing to occupy him whatsoever! The best thing he could have had was otherwise occupied with her own things.

The only words she said to him were 'no' and 'stop that'.

He tried making her laugh to get her attention, he tried wriggling to get out, he cried, he made eye contact and jargoned, he pointed....indeed he tried every bit of his communicative repertoire but all to no avail. In the end he just screamed and then sobbed!

This made me feel really sad. The mother obviously cared for him. He was clean, fed and his physical needs were met but he was being neglected! The mother would not have sat there for all that time with nothing to do yet that's what she expected of her son.

I maintain that all parents want the best for their children but they need to know what that is. Let's have a public information drive so parents realise they should be talking to their babies and young children! It took a while before 'clunk, click every trip' took off but now everyone wears their seat belt. What catch phrase can you think of to headline the campaign?


  1. How about 'Speaking is nice - it beats a device!' Or 'Don't forget the talking, when playing, driving, walking'.

  2. While I admire your intention here, remember you saw a few hours of this family's life in an incredibly stressful situation, where the mother's time on devices may have involved communicating with other family members about illness, arranging emergency childcare for other children etc - and the time on headphones and looking out the window might have been time she was spending worrying, planning or just trying to hold it together.

    I really hate when we as speech and language therapists judge parental interactions without full knowledge of context. I have three young children under five and believe me, this house is ALL about communication... but I am human too, with all the usual trials and tribulations of all mothers to contend with above and beyond being mindful of moment to moment communication, and I have no doubt there will have been periods in my young children's lives where I was physically present but mentally juggling a million balls and 'to do' lists, reducing my capacity for joint attention and communication with my kids at various points of our lives. One period of time springs to mind when I was pregnant after severe complications in a previous pregnancy, threatening miscarriage, coping with insomnia and nausea, worrying about a severely ill family member, dealing with a very upsetting child protection case at work and suddenly, my husband had an accident which stopped him driving and being able to provide care for our two under threes. This was a normal, if difficult part of being a grown up at that time - there were no tragedies and I was not living in poverty or experiencing domestic violence - but yes, there were probably times a stranger might have watched me being too preoccupied to be fully responsive to my young children, despite all my knowledge, skills and experience.

    The sooner we as speech and language therapists appreciate the full complexity of parental barriers to supporting children's communication we will realise that often, it's not about one liners, strategies or advice. As a bottom line, if you care about children, don't shame their parents into feeling they are 'neglecting' their children on the basis of your beady eyed criticism of a stranger you don't know. Empathy needs to come first.

  3. I agree entirely BUT she was laughing and joking on the phone to her friends and chatting with other people or I would have given her the benefit of the doubt! I just really believe many don't realise what they need to do. We've been involved with the 'troubled families' scheme or building resiliant families as we call it here. ALL the parents want the best for their children but they just don't know what that is. Just wish it was seen as a priority so social messages were the norm. Have you seen the new app that the Aussies have done? Its called 'speak' and gives advice at each age/stage.