Tag Archives: babies

Pie on wheels

Hands down, the best purchase I’ve made since having kids is our cargo bike. She’s been my right-hand gal over six months now, helping me transport the boys to school, haul groceries, fetch library books, and complete other supremely routine aspects of my life. With her assistance, the monotonous became an adventure. (Yes, she’s female. I still need to name her, though. The boys once suggested Rudolph, and as much as I appreciate the story parallels, I couldn’t embrace Rudolpha or Rudolphina. Suggestions welcome! She’s black with red bags and strong as a horse. Lucille? Annie? Cherry Pie? Rhubarb? Oooh, maybe Rudy!)

Now, cue Mary Poppins singing “Let’s go fly a kite” except substitute “Let’s go ride a bike.” Nearly every time I hop on I sing that song (in my head, though I’m probably a decade away from singing out loud.) Bike rides bring out my inner musical like just about nothing else. The only conditions that block the earworm from entering are arguing boys, super wiggly passengers, busy streets, rude or inattentive drivers. (Stop texting, people! Sheesh!) Otherwise, I am ridiculously happy on my bike. I often feel sluggish in the afternoon before going to get the boys but one ride picks me right back up.

IMG_5894

Rain and wind didn’t stop us! I’m not sure we would’ve braved the weather if we hadn’t committed in advance, but we ended up so glad we participated. It was such a fun morning! (Thankfully, the wettest day in over a year happened the NEXT day.)

My first time carrying a bike passenger happened during an exchange student year in The Netherlands. I was eightteen, a recent high school graduate and away from home for the first time ever. Every few months the Rotary exchange students would gather at someone’s village. We’d dance, freely speak our native languages without judgment, and repeatedly consume four ounce glasses of Heineken. We usually ended our nights biking in small groups to homes of kind people willing to host tipsy, homesick foreign teenagers.

One of those nights a Dutch girl (stranger to me) needed a ride to her place. The back rack of my bike was open and I must’ve agreed or couldn’t argue sufficiently given my state. Either way, it was naive of me. Probably her, too. We didn’t get far. I lost my balance as I biked over a canal bridge. Wobbling and shaking, I dumped both the bike and my passenger on the street. I’m glad my Dutch wasn’t stellar at that point, because I was spared comprehension of most of the cuss words she threw my way. I’m certain I confirmed her belief that Americans can’t ride bikes. (I wish I had tallied the number of times I was asked if I could ride a bike during that year. There must be a lot of American tourists dumping bikes in canals or having near misses with trams.)

Thankfully, both my Dutch and my biking skills improved that year. I learned to navigate my way past the Amsterdammers blocking paths without stepping off my bike. I rode 10km from my village, Monnickendam, to my school in north Amsterdam with a group of friends. As I recall, there was always headwind both ways. (Listen up, young whippersnappers!) Biking became second nature and my passport to freedom. Heck, I even learned to adequately transport people while tipsy!

IMG_5893

Most, but not all, of the bikes on the ride. Notice Madi’s bike on the top left with the bike teeter-totter strapped on, aka her “sail” on the windy day.

IMG_5901

Cargo bike decks act as portable tables, too. After consuming his 3.14 pies, Miles resigned himself to apples and cheese.

Biking with my boys has reminded me of the free spirit and sense of adventure I felt while living in Holland. Last Saturday, our family celebrated Pi Day with a big group of other families on a Kidical Mass bike ride. Charlie and Harry biked themselves. I carried Miles, his balance bike, twenty-something blueberry turnovers, apples, bread, cheese, a towel, and water bottles. It felt easy, which was definitely not the case six months ago and such a great realization. (I’ll write another post about my journey towards comfort with this bike.)

For the past few years I was scared to death of biking with the boys in the city but missing riding more and more. I was the quintessential Wendy, willing but wary. I began searching the internet for inspiration from Seattle families. Madi, the Queen of Seattle family biking and author of the soon to be published Urban Cycling, inspired me to start seriously considering a cargo bike. (Check out her Instagram photos. The woman could carry a small house on her bike. Oh, and her pictures from Pi day are here!) Each little glimpse into her world encouraged me to be more courageous. If she could tackle Seattle’s hills, relatively poor (but improving!) cycling infrastructure, rainy days and less than biker-friendly driving culture with two kids on board, I could get there, too. It was a slow warming period, but with her help and the support of Seattle’s Family Biking facebook group, I jumped on board.

In honor of the freedom wheels bring, full-circle moments, and opportunity to indulge in buttery pastries, I was excited to celebrate the day with a special treat on board. Here’s a very minimally adapted turnover recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Hers calls for apples and are a bit larger. I made mine smaller because I didn’t want any tiny riders to be pie deprived, nor did I want to double the recipe.

IMG_5895

Hi-vis jacket courtesy of my road biking days made it easy to spot the pies. Did the trick this rainy, windy day! The Green Lake wading pool hosts bike rodeos in the off season.

 

IMG_5892

Flaky Blueberry Turnovers

Slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s turnover recipe in Baking, makes ~20-24 hand pies

Dough
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Filling
  • 1 to 2 jars thick blueberry jam (I used St. Dalfour Wild Blueberry)

Aesthetics

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Turbinado or Demerara sugar (or other coarse, thick sugar), for sprinkling

To make the dough, stir the sour cream and sugar together and set aside. Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter pieces into the flour, using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. Work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. It is better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough, and keeping the butter cold is important, so don’t worry about being too thorough. Using a lifting and tossing motion with a fork, gently work in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half in a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each half into a rectangle. Don’t worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or for up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Once it’s rolled out, fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. (You can change the size and shape of cutter you use. Obviously this will impact your total yield. It may also change the baking time, so plan accordingly.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scraps together, chill them, and make additional turnovers to get the full yield. (The turnovers made from scraps will still taste good, they just won’t be as light and flaky as the first round.) You’ll get 8 to 10 rounds from each half of dough.

IMG_5904

Place one teaspoon blueberry jam in the center of each round. Moisten the edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes on top, and transfer the turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen. After they firm up in the freezer, wrap them airtight and store for up to two months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.)

Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle each one with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 8-9 minutes. When done, the turnovers will be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown. Gently transfer them to racks, cool to room temperature, put them in a sturdy container, and secure them in your bike bag.

 

#TBT All consuming

He was absolutely delicious. I wish I could return to his scrumptious Michelin man stage this very moment, nuzzle his bulging belly, squeeze his rolls, and play peek-a-boo with him. I need to borrow a baby. Stat.4704873437_be4cd61b9c_z

IMG_1539 IMG_1617

He was the cutest pot of soup to ever exist. He made a damn fine sous chef, too. Those rolls are just the results of breast milk and a serious love for pureed peas, folks. Apparently I produced top notch cream. Now,  he’s nearly five years old and there’s barely any sign of chub on his body.

My baby enters Kindergarten next fall and I’m in the midst of significant inner turmoil about it. I don’t believe in full-day Kindergarten unless it incorporates an enormous amount of play. Sadly, none of our local public schools do that. (Despite what the research says regarding executive functioning and what countries with the best outcomes are doing. Grrr.) That’s why we home-schooled Charlie for Kindergarten. Why should Miles receive less? This brings me enormous angst. We’re not ignoring our beliefs, even though it’s scary. So that feels right.

Knowing there are enormous changes ahead, whatever they may be, I find myself treasuring our alone time more than ever. The way he lays his head on me when we snuggle up to read. His newest compliment, “You’re the best cooker!”, that I’m lucky enough to receive every time I hand him a favorite food. His ability to enter any room and light up it with conversation about the most everyday things simply because he’s so happy to chat at length with any adult who will listen. During yesterday’s bike ride home from school he told me, “We should visit Italy, Mama. Leonardo made a horse out of steel and it still exist-is. [I adore this language error.] First he made one of clay but it melted. His friend Charlie told him he should build one out of metal, so he did. And IT STILL EXIST-IS!!!”

To witness a couple of my favorite videos of his giggles, visit:

The amazing powers of a tissue and fake sneeze

Worse than a chalkboard (don’t watch if you’re a dentist)

Here’s to independence

photo1 It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still thinking about the Fourth of July. I’m not alone. Tonight at bedtime Miles proclaimed, “Fourth of July is when I shoot Fluffy out of my bottom!” Fluffy is Charlie’s favorite stuffed animal, a white cat that survived my childhood but probably won’t theirs. Clearly, it’s going to be exciting here next year. Consider this an invitation to our potluck.

This year we decided to embrace the crowds at Seattle’s biggest Fourth of July event. More significantly, we opted to forego bedtimes. Fireworks are shot off from a barge in Lake Union at 10:15pm, while thousands crowd the shores of Gas Works Park for viewing. (My favorite comment of the night was Miles’, “Fireworks are rockets that shoot lasers!”) We forged our exit with the masses around 11, and then walked a couple miles to get home. Charlie stayed up past midnight, Miles conked out in the stroller somewhere along the way.

For years I would’ve rather gouged myself in the eye with a hot poker than keep them up late. Our exceptionally sleep-sensitive kids would undoubtedly attempt to continue partying throughout the night (the kind of partying that comes with wailing and the need to suck), only to wake at 5:30am for the day. This happened 99% of the nights they missed an hour or two of sleep. Lest you think this ridiculous night-waking would cease after one night, oh no. It would continue for at least a week, likely two, until we got them back “on schedule.”

For some perspective, these days Miles typically heads to bed at 7pm and Charlie around 7:30 or 8. They both usually rise around 6am, 7 at the absolute latest. Every time we’ve tried to push their bedtimes later, they’ve woken up earlier. So, while not worrying about the bedtime schedule was indeed fabulously freeing, the really magical part was that they SLEPT IN next morning. We considered opening a bottle of Champagne. It was 8am.

Until this year we’ve endured Seattle’s very late hours of darkness on Independence Day cringing with each firecracker that popped by our windows, hoping to Jesus that our boys would continue sleeping while simultaneously cussing (in our minds or with each other) at the teenagers setting them off at 2am. The trauma of years of significant sleep deprivation will make one a teensy weensy bit anxious about explosives detonating nearby. Even if the kids slept through the bangs, WE certainly couldn’t. No luxury of earplugs, of course. We needed to hear our babies cry! So, instead we lay in bed with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces, patriotism dwindling by the second.

photo3 By the way, the next time you hear someone giving a parent a hard time about maintaining a schedule, recommend trying this:

1) Lay in bed at 9:30pm. Just as your eyelids start to droop and you fade away, have a partner yell loudly in your ear, simulating a wailing baby. They must yelp for at least ten minutes while you bounce them, pat them, rock them, or walk with them. To be fair, though, it really should be at least twenty minutes. Once they’re quiet, hold them and rock them for at least another ten. (It might feel awkward doing this with an adult. Use a dog or a stuffed animal if you prefer. Or simply remind yourselves, this is all worth it to build empathy!) Next, set them down carefully. Don’t sneeze, fart, burp, sniffle, step on a squeaky floorboard, trip over a toy car, or move your fingers away from their body too quickly as you gently lay them down. If make any startling noise or jostling body movement, start again from the beginning.

2) Repeat the entire routine again in two hours, this time taking time to warm up a bottle and feed the “baby.” (Unless you happen to be randomly lactating, which is odd enough that you should get that checked out.) Once the “baby” is asleep, set your alarm for 2:30am and try to fall asleep even though you know you’ll get two hours more shut-eye at best.

3) At 2:30 complete a half hour of simulated diaper changing, bouncing and shushing. The stuffed animal option is probably best for this.

4) You’re not done yet. Treat yourself to a final wail at 4am that continues until 5. At this point your mind will be racing because you know that you probably only have a half hour left to sleep. You’ll battle with yourself for awhile as to whether or not you should try to sleep more, thus wasting precious time. Eventually, you’ll convince yourself that this will be the day they’ll sleep later, and just as you close your eyes, your partner must babble loudly and immediately demand breakfast. (You now have two children. Just so this this experiment is highly effective.)

5) Repeat this routine nightly until you experience deep compassion for parents of babies who don’t sleep well. If it takes you more than a few nights, borrow someone’s kids to care for during the daytime hours, too. All screentime is off-limits. Grocery shop, do laundry, and cook at least once.

Now you probably get why I’m still thinking about the holiday. My husband and I gained a little independence this Fourth of July. It feels like we just might’ve made it through.

Summer PSA: My scariest parenting moment to date

Generally one of the best ways for me to process a horrible event is to share it with friends and write about it. This particular one was witnessed by a friend, and I was comforted to have her immediate empathetic, non-judgmental response as my first. When I told my husband he also responded lovingly and graciously, understanding how this could happen. That’s the only type of response I can handle right now. Here, I’m requesting virtual hugs while simultaneously providing a PSA.

While visiting a friend’s pool today, a common summer event for us, I did as I usually do: walked into the courtyard, placed our gear and food on a table, and turned to help get the boys ready for the pool. But this time I turned around and my youngest was bobbing up and down, silently drowning. (I can’t yet write this without crying.)

I jumped into the pool, cover-up dress still on, and placed him on the side. I held him, kissing him and holding him for a long time while my hands shook. He was breathing. Thank God. He didn’t cough either, so I suppose he did a decent job keeping his mouth closed each time he went under.

I don’t know how long he was in. Probably just a few seconds, certainly no more than a minute. He had to walk down a couple stairs to get to the deeper part and he was already a few feet away from the stairs when I got to him. Given the outcome, it doesn’t matter. I can replay it all I want but I’ll never know exactly how it happened. I just know that he got in over his head.

For the past few summers he’s worn a puddle jumper to swim “independently.” He’s never tried to get in without me holding him or wearing that. I assumed, after several years of safe behavior, that he understood he could not float without assistance. Obviously, there was some cognitive shift in which he no longer understood that he wasn’t floating by himself. Or he simply didn’t understand the consequences. Even immediately after the incident he tried several times to get in the pool without me or the puddle jumper after we’d removed it for bathroom breaks and lunch. Having learned my lesson, I was vigilant at that point and didn’t allow him out of my line of sight, but I was surprised that he tried entering again so quickly.

I simply want to add to the chorus of water safety PSAs, specifically to remind parents of young children that our little ones may demonstrate safety over months of time, even years, and then immediately disregard the rules. (I certainly could’ve used a gentler reminder.) After it happened I recalled that my oldest tried to cross the street without me when he was four, also after years of always waiting for an adult’s hand. There just might be something about this age, as they shift from babies and toddlers to more independent little kids, that they overestimate their own skills. Don’t assume a history of consistently safe behavior will continue.

We will now establish a routine that prevents accidents. I will be putting his puddle jumper on prior to entering the pool courtyard. Or I will hold his hand until it’s on. Or I will not take my eyes off of him. But even writing that idea feels dangerous. Another kid falling or crying can be a big enough distraction to take my eyes off of him, just long enough for a him to get in the pool. So, I think I’ll stick with putting it on the minute we have access to the water.

Right after it happened I would’ve spent a thousand dollars for amazing swim lessons to get him 100% water safe. I’ve talked myself down a bit, but I feel increasingly horrible about it. I will never forget the look on his face. I couldn’t be more thankful that this ending wasn’t different.

photo1

Giggle therapy

This morning I enjoyed time with a friend and her absolutely scrumptious ten-month-old girl. That’s a dangerous age. If “we” weren’t “fixed”, we just might’ve made an impulse baby tonight. I received those precious uninhibited smiles, chubby hands repeatedly hit my hat off my head, and about every five minutes she let me hold her for two seconds.

I find it sadly ironic that we can summon our creative, silly side best when we’re refreshed, yet parenting young children almost guarantees you’re rarely not exhausted. Parents desperately need humor after a night of hourly wake-up calls. We are far more likely to resemble Frankenstein than Barney. Well, maybe that’s not sad after all. At least not for us.

Anyways, this post is dedicated to those of you who are bone tired and in need of some inspiration for connecting with your baby. A few giggles just might help you remember how fun and cute they are (or will be soon!) even if they’re not allowing you an ounce of shut-eye.

Peek-a-boo, with yourself or toys, probably works so well since babies don’t have object permanence in the early months. (When penguin is gone, she’s gone. Oh no. But, look! She magically appeared again!) You can shake it up by not being predictable with your actions. Babies love suspense! Make them anticipate with your pauses, eye contact and body movements. Next, pair silly noises and you’ve hit baby giggle jackpot. By the time both boys reached toddlerhood, we probably accumulated fifty versions of peek-a-boo games.

While you watch the clips below, you may notice that my husband and I often wait for the (incredibly adorable) baby to make eye contact. We’re checking in for interest and fatigue level, but also allowing him to control the routine a bit. If we wait until he looks, we’re ensuring he’s interested. He can give himself breaks, too. Or completely call it off.

These links all take you to videos on vimeo. (I wish they could be embedded, but I’d have to pay extra for that, which isn’t happening at the moment.) The videos presented show forms of peek-a-boo and building suspense with eye contact. Since I’m done having babies, if you have one that needs a laugh or your back is tired, I have open arms! This ranks up there with spotting orcas for me.

Hiding, ball-spitting hand

Tummy time peek-a-boo

The crazy disappearing cow

Squeaky thighs

Suspenseful leg eating

Using Language to Reduce Meltdowns and Tantrums

I am a woman who often likes control and has battled a lifelong tendency towards perfectionism. The more tired or stressed I am, the more calm and collected I want things to be. My first time trying something new usually stresses me out because I don’t want to mess up or not do as well as I’d hoped. The first hurdle is always the hardest for me and then I usually glide along until I hit a new, bigger one or see the finish line. I’ve learned that this part of me is quite rooted in anxiety. I am also self-classified as a “highly-sensitive person”, which plays itself out in a variety of ways, including me being very aware of how everyone around me is feeling and anticipating problems and needs before they arise. There’s a lot more to say about all that, but now I just give you this hint of my background to help you understand a bit of why I have even thought of these things to begin with.

So, toddlers and young children who are tantrumming stress me out a bit, particularly my own. Especially when we’re not sleeping well at night.

Having had a lot of experience with children, and having studied child development- mainly communication skills- I foresaw a few of the developmental hurdles that would be particularly challenging as my first baby turned toddler. I knew turn-taking could be really tough. I also knew delayed gratification and waiting for certain toys or food would be hard. Lastly, I knew how frequently a child’s lack of understanding could cause a communication breakdown which would usually result in that child getting upset or tantrumming.

Using Language to Reduce Meltdowns and Tantrums

( Don’t let his sweetness fool you. He doesn’t want to share. Not even with the monkeys.)

So, when Charlie was six to nine months or so, I started modeling language for him to help him understand the concept of taking turns. I wanted to provide the words and concept before the problem had actually come to fruition. The scenario would be something like this:

Me (while holding drumsticks, ready to show him my awesome skills): “Mama’s going to drum!”*

Charlie watches and eventually expresses an interest by babbling or trying to grab the drumsticks or squealing with excitement.

Me: “Ok! Charlie’s turn!”

Charlie gets to drum away.

Me (pick up maracas): “I’m going to shake my maracas.” Oh, yeah.

Charlie stops drumming and requests the maracas.

Me: “Ok, first mama, then Charlie.” I shake them a little longer, making him hold out a bit, but keeping the interaction positive and successful. “Charlie’s turn! Can mama have a turn with the drums again?”

We trade. You get the idea.

Basically, I made taking turns fun. I emphasized the words “turn” and “first X, then Y.” And I would model this language for him a lot. Babies and toddlers need tons of repetition to learn something. You will be bored with it long before they are. (Have you hidden a book yet because you just can’t read it again? We have several that go into hiding for a month or two.)

Later, when Joey wants to play with Charlie’s trains, Charlie can understand that Joey wants a turn and then he will get a turn again. I can remind him with that language he’s heard over and over again, “First Joey gets a turn, then Charlie.” He doesn’t think the world is going to end when his train leaves his hands. Because kids think this. They crumble to pieces thinking they have lost their favorite train forever. And life without Thomas would be so, so sad. It’s like how I feel if you take my chocolate truffle, except I know I won’t see that truffle again. Please don’t do this to me.

I would bet that teaching the “first, then” concept has probably been our most effective language-based** tantrum reducer. Young children have such a hard time understanding that something is still going to happen even though something else needs to take place first. Plus, waiting is really freakin’ hard. So, they hear playground!, get totally excited to go and then absolutely freak out when you try to get them dressed first. You can remind them, “First clothes on, then playground.” It also provides awesome leverage for when kids hate getting changed, dressed, into car seats or strollers or other strapped in devices. “First car seat, then FUN (toy, food, music, high-five)!” “First diaper, then soccer!”

This is best taught in playful ways, just like turn-taking, and integrated into all your normal everyday situations. “Oooh, first we get to eat carrots (as you set them down), then I’m going to cut some cheese slices!” It can be as simple as playing with blocks (“First I’m using the red block, then I’m stacking the blue block”) or airplane (“First, on my feet, then, up in the air!”).

Please don’t get me wrong. I may not like tantrums, but I also understand that there is a time and place for children to experience disappointment and have to learn boundaries. I don’t try to shield my children from all challenges. I don’t think I’d be doing them any favors by sparing them disappointment and obstacles. But, I find that normal life scenarios bring up plenty. People get sick, budgets constrain, weather prevents plans, toys break, mom doesn’t let you use the chef’s knife, food doesn’t taste as we hope, etc… None of us need to add extra challenges during regular, routine moments like leaving a fun place or getting into a car if a little talking through it at their level will help.

Additionally, we have expectations for our boys. They both clean up after themselves and help out around the house and yard. Even at two-years old, Miles knows how to clean up and actually has been able to (to a degree) for a year! He doesn’t always want to, but he can do it with most of his toys and will usually come around if we structure it right. (“Let’s clean up so we can go ride our scooters before bedtime!” We have to be willing to have that awful, sad moment of him not getting to go ride his scooter on occasions that he doesn’t pitch in, but you can bet that’s all he needs to do it from them on, at least for a week or two.) It’s all about motivation and consistency.

I’d probably be very rich if I could guarantee this will work 100% of the time. It won’t. You know that, I’m sure. But, if children are well-rested and well-fed, this strategy will help mitigate and decrease the number of less than pleasant moments that make you want to pull your hair out and wear earplugs.

*Maybe you’re wondering why the heck I am not using pronouns talking to babies and young toddlers. Pronouns are pretty confusing to little ones- they really don’t understand them. I’ve found that their comprehension is aided by using proper names for the first year, often first two. If you’re keyed into your child’s understanding, you’ll know when switching back to “I” and “you” isn’t a problem for them. And, please, for the sake of all our ears, switch back. Nothing’s weirder than somebody talking to a four year old this way.

**Best ways to prevent tantrums: feed your children healthy food on a regular schedule, make sure you children get the sleep they need. These are pretty hard to argue with. Meals, naps, and bedtimes are ridiculously sacred in our house.

Genuine Interactions by Modeling and Scaffolding Language

Here’s the scene:

Dad, watching daughter’s eyes (yay!), sees her look at a passing dog.

Dad: “Is that a dog? Do you see the dog? Can you say dog? Dog. Dog-gie.”

Toddler: Silent. Possibly pondering why dad asked if she knew it was a dog when he was clearly so sure of himself. Or maybe wishing she could throw him a bone. (The dog, people, the dog.)

 

I will probably go to my grave able to hear my graduate school supervisor’s voice advising me to stop asking questions while providing language therapy with my first pediatric client. I think she even kept data to monitor my progress. So, I’ve been aware of this pattern for years and have noticed how everyone does this with children to some degree. Stop, listen and you’ll hear kids being asked ridiculous questions everywhere you go. Plus, it’s an incredibly hard habit to break. Yet from an normal interaction standpoint, it’s actually quite silly when you think about it. There’s a much more effective way to build language skills.

Most of us don’t form our knowledge base about a topic from questions. We learn a little bit, then ask questions. Essentially, we build a foundation from which we can ask questions, which take us to the higher levels of thinking. Young children use vocabulary as the cement. (I guess phonology is the sand and water?! Maybe we shouldn’t take this too far.)

 

The scene above could instead go like this:

Adult: “Oh, there’s a dog!” (Modeling the word and pausing, giving daughter time to process and speak.)

Toddler: “Dog.” (That’s the truth, right?! It doesn’t get super complicated very quickly.)

Adult: “What a sweet brown dog.” (Continues conversation and adds a new descriptor or two- scaffolding her language just a little bit.)

Toddler: “Want dog.”

Adult: “Do you want to pet the dog?” (Genuine question, very appropriate.)

Toddler: “Yup. Pet dog.”

 

Moving away from constant questioning to a more reciprocal interaction style is liberating. Instead of taking over their topic of interest, we are able to follow their lead and build on it. We are no longer putting kids on the spot, either. (Though there remain many moments when I am still guilty of this- and always feel regretful afterwards.) We are engaging with them at their level but allowing them time and space to comment on whatever interests them, not just to answer our questions.Conversations with toddlers are not always easy, but with this technique they get easier and can be incredibly fun, silly and enlightening. Since toddlers are still pruning their semantic network, the connections they’ll make between different words and ideas can be hilarious. If adults are in constant bombardment mode, babies don’t get as many chances to shine. And make us giggle! I remember one very bright little toddler insisting that crows were pigeons for a few months. Kids will come around through modeling.* All you have to do is work in corrections in a gentle, natural way.

Toddler: “Pigeon! Caw-caw, pigeon!”

Adult: “Wow, I see that black bird. What a noisy crow. Caw-caw, crow.” 

Toddler: “Bye pigeon!”

Adult: “Bye birdie! Bye crow!”

548145_10151013152499146_752892915_n

Also, modeling language is a great way to mediate a scary or challenging situation for young kids. For example, we had a thunderstorm roll through Seattle this week, scaring my little guy. (We may get lots of rain, but thunderstorms are very unusual.) I used snuggle time and lots of soothing descriptions to help him get through the storm. Each time lightning struck I would quietly say part or all of something like this, “There’s lightning. Here comes the thunder. There’s the thunder. It’s loud. It’s grumbling.” Miles just sat on me, listening, taking it all in. Later in the day he kept saying, “Thunder turn on and then thunder turn off.” When Charlie mentioned lightning, Miles added “Thunder turn on and Lightning McQueen turn on.” (Lightning McQueen! How awesome is that?!) Rather than giving him an outright correction or bombarding him with questions, I could just model the appropriate language for him. “First lightning came and then we heard thunder. And then it happened again. Now it’s all done. The storm is over.” Modeling the language during a scary situation provided a way for him to talk about his fears later. By calmly providing the words (instead of questioning him), he could take it in at his pace and feel as safe as possible. I feel certain that just knowing the name of something can help demystify, reduce stigma and help us feel more comfortable with new situations.

So, even though I’ve known this stuff for years. I still ask the stupidest questions sometimes, particularly when I’m trying to connect and not feeling particularly witty or energetic. Like asking, “How old are you?” to a kid I’ve known since they were in-utero while we’re at their birthday party with enormous cut-out 5s everywhere. Such patient kids, putting up with all our silliness.

 

 

*There are kids with language disorders and language delays who will need therapy and more direct teaching styles to develop vocabulary. I am referring to a typically developing child.