Reflections of parenting – we are the pilot boat driver.

I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately looking within about our role as parents. 

When our children are little. It is intense. Physically intense. I don’t think I had a proper night’s sleep for about a decade. I did not realize how sleep deprived I was until I wasn’t anymore. Four children under 6…and the eldest had only just turned 6 a month before our youngest was born was physically tough.

Then they start to grow up and the physical intensity wanes but the emotional load can hit you like a ton of bricks. 

This last 12 months has really challenged me on who I am as a parent and how I parent. 

I have learnt that you can’t actually stop the ‘bad stuff’ from happening. You can’t protect them from it. 

You can’t protect them from feeling the feels and experiencing the experiences. It is impossible. 

We have had times this last year where it felt like we were watching a train wreck and had no way to stop it. We threw ourselves in the path. We jumped up and down. But we could not stop it.

Then I started to think. Maybe we are not meant to stop it. Maybe the lessons our kids learn are their lessons to learn. It is their journey to have. Their experiences to experience. 

It does not make it easy to watch though.

We want to fix it.

The insane drive to make it right and to protect are incredibly hard to resist.

Then I wondered if perhaps we are our children’s pilot boat.

The pilot boats role is to gently guide the larger boat out of the rivers and ports of the world. 

In my home town a few years ago we had a big flood and a large chunk of concrete walkway came adrift and was dangerously heading down the river and one of the local pilots hopped in his little boat (I think of them as little tug boats) and he guided that concrete away from our bridges and out to the ocean. He was a true hero that man. I remember being glued to the TV watching this unfold. 

We are our children’s pilot boats. 

We can’t drive their boat.

We can’t be their Captain.

We can’t protect them from the storms in life but we can gently guide them away from the catastrophes. Well we can certainly give it our best shot.

Before we had kids, I would have said that when I have them I want to raise them to be good people who would go out into the world and make their mark and be independent.

But the journey of letting go is hard.

The journey to realising you are in the pilot boat, is hard.

But I believe that it is what we need to do.

Different stages of life require different skills and techniques from the pilot boat driver.

At the moment we are navigating adolescence, finishing school and parenting from 16000 km away. Talk about jumping in at the deep end to learn how to get out of the Captain’s seat and into the Pilot boat.

There are days I just want to wrap us all up together and just BE.

As we head into the new decade I find myself thinking about where my family will be in 10 years. I don’t have a clue.

We will be done with primary and high school.

The one thing I know with certainty is that by then I will be a semi-retired pilot boat driver. I may not even need to be gently guiding all that often anymore. 

They will be out at sea safely travelling their own paths. Learning their lessons. Creating their stories. 

I am just glad I had 4 of them.

If there are any of you out there looking for some guidance in supporting your young child’s language development to be part of your skill set as a pilot boat driver then I will be here looking forward to supporting you in your journey.

Much love.

Thank you for being here. See you in the New Year.

Enjoy the ride in the pilot boat. 

Christmas gifts that are great for building language!

Christmas – I am in shock that it is nearly upon us.

I was asked recently about gifts that are great for building language.

It got me thinking, so here are my thoughts about gifts that are great for building language.

Truthfully,any gift that you can talk about together is perfect for language development.

Any gift that your child adores is great as it will motivate them to talk.

However, for those that are keen for some more definitive suggestions. I think the following are wonderful ideas for children under 5.

Books

You can never get too many of these in my opinion. I love going to my local bookshop and chatting with the hugely informative people who work there. They are fonts of knowledge and can direct you to the perfect book for your child’s age, stage and interests.

Recipe Book

Cooking is a fantastic way to build language.

All the food to talk about.

All the ‘doing’ words such as mixing, rolling, cutting, chopping, washing etc.

First, next and then, last. There is so much to talk about when cooking with young children.

 

Lego / Duplo

My eldest got his first lot of Lego at 3 years. I remember us buying through eBay a stash of Lego. This was the beginning of what became regular gifts for all the kids. We have large amount of Lego now and even at 11, 14, 15 and 17 we have Lego out every holiday. It is timeless.

This may in fact be the first Christmas where no Lego is received!

Although it might be on my youngest daughter’s wish list. I am one of those people that tend to leave gift buying until after the 20th December. Every year  I plan to change that but here we are and it is the 18th December and we have barely started.

 

Puzzles

For the younger child these can be great. They give you a lot to talk about.

 

Dolls / Trucks / Animals

All the things that allow your young child to develop their pretend play. You can’t go wrong.

 

However, the ultimate gift is your time.

Which is one of the reasons why I love this season so much as it allows us time to slow down.

I love those days when there are no shops open, nowhere to go, nowhere to be.

Just together.

My favourite kind of day.

The space between Christmas and New Year is always special.

I tend to read copious amounts!

I have a couple of ebooks that you might be interested in for some holiday reading!

 If you are a parent of a toddler and you are looking for ways to support the words to come then you can head here for the essential tools for supporting your toddlers talking

 Or if you are just looking for an ages and stages reading material with some strategies to support language development then  head here for my communication milestones ebook.

 

 

Context is King!

I think that actual saying is ‘cash flow is king’. But I think we can use it when we are talking with about babies and young children. Context is king. I will try to explain what I mean.

When we are learning to talk, and this applies to other developmental areas as well, such as gross and fine motor. If we don’t have the experiences we won’t be able to learn the skill.

We see in areas across Australia some places where the children are machines at gross motor development. They are climbing, running and jumping at a very early age, but perhaps they are not so keen on books because maybe they don’t have a lot of books in their environment.

Then we have areas where the kids are all over reading and books at an early age but are less adventurous with their gross motor.

Same with writing and using scissors. If we don’t have the safe scissors to practice with, we can’t easily learn to cut paper (not hair, never hair!).

With language development, if we want our children to use words, we do need to provide them with the opportunities to do so. Depending on their age, the way you do this is different.

For a child of about 18 months to two years with single words, you will need to start pausing…. give them a chance to say the word. I needed to count in my head sometimes as silence makes me nervous (jokes – but I still don’t like it much). Be mindful not to always be saying everything for them. If we wait and give them a chance to have a go then maybe they will. Have a go at waiting for about 5-10 seconds rather than jumping in.

Context also is the environment.

If we have lots of books we can go to so many different places. Learn new words.

If we want them to learn about food (flour, egg, and milk), verbs (break, mix, stir, pour, tip, and bake) then providing them with baking opportunities is the simple and easiest way to do this. Looking at my children it is also a great opportunity to learn words like messy, sticky, gross, wash, mouth, face…

Every home has a different context.

Which is why I feel that empowering parents to feel confident in supporting young children’s language development is the key. Learning language in the context of our home and our routines is critical.

I am going to be running a series of communication workshops.

I am talking about 3 different age groups.

Over 3 days.

Each workshop will be about half an hour, perhaps a little longer.

I am going to share 3 tweaks to your everyday that will build language in babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

For more information please head to this page.

When you register you are eligible for all, but come to one or all.

Whatever ones are useful to you.

Getting ready for school….

Last week my eldest finished school, we still have another 7 years though of being the parents of school aged children.

I am grateful I had four, as I get to extend it out for a while! It is a little bonkers as I lie in bed at the moment and think to myself that I have a child at schoolies. Not the Goldie, but away for the week with his friends.

All the little baby steps that we have been taking together to get to this point. It feels a little like “and just like that he was gone”…

Life seems to be made up of all of these little moments that get our children to the space of readiness for the next space.

You know when they are little and you get that false sense of – I am on top of this and then nope you get the reminder that in fact you are not as they change it up for you. Just as it starts to get a bit easier.

I was thinking about all the parents who are facing their eldest starting school next year. I recall that like it was just yesterday!

As a speech pathologist there are a few things I can encourage you to think about prior to the big day.

On a personal level I think being able to:
• make friends,
• separate from you,
• stay awake for 6 hours, and
• open lunch boxes and packaging are the critical elements.

I remember when my now “old boy” was going into school and he is a fairly shy and quiet child and a friend would say “Hi” and he would say nothing…and I would say to him “when someone says hello, you have to say hi back – it is what we do” and he would say to me “I did say hi” and I would then say “you have to say hi out loud so they can hear it, not just in your head gorgeous boy”.

These skills are super important as we transition to school.

Some kids do them remarkably easily and for others it is a learning curve.

There are other skills that are easy enough to teach most kids, such as early literacy skills. Some of the most important of these are just knowing what a word is, what a letter is, what a sound is.

Speech Pathologists call these skills metalinguistic skills – this is the ability to talk about language.

Also, understanding the language of the classroom.

When we are first learning language we talk about the things that are very much in front of us.

The ‘here and now’ elements, however as we transition into school knowing how to talk about the ‘there and then’ becomes very important.

Using language to predict and describe not just what is in front of us but also what is not.

I will do a webinar focusing on these language skills to be ready for the classroom.

I will let you know when it is ready to go!

First words and when to expect them.

The days are long, but the years are short.

I remember hearing this quote and loving it. Because in the early days the days are remarkably long.

This young gentleman graduates from high school this week.

The photo on the right is him this week in all his formal splendour.

I cannot believe how the time has flown.

I recall the moment of his birth.

The moment he first started to walk.

The time when he started to talk.

His first days in daycare.

His first day at school.

Now here we are and tomorrow is his last day.

In the moment sometimes it all feels so very big.

I was reflecting on his development last night.

I remember the first time he got sick and foolishly we went to the hospital as we were so scared. Yes, it was just a cold.

I remember when the daycare carer came to me and said she was worried about him, as he was falling over all the time. You know it is bad when they come to you with their concerns as it cannot be easy saying to a parent – “I am worried”. You need to be genuinely very worried.

What had happened though was he learnt to walk around 11 months.

Then by 18 months he had at least 50 or so words and was using single words consistently.

Then his language exploded and he went from single words to phrases over the period of about a month.

It was in this month that he kept falling over.

It was like his brain was directing all its neurons to learning language that walking got put to the side for a while. Multi-tasking was not his strength! (I guess it is no ones really).

However, once two words phrases were his new norm, his walking was fine again.

By 2 years he was speaking in short phrases and walking just fine.

As a rule of thumb by:

  • 15 months your baby is likely to have about 10 words
  • 18 months they are likely to have 50 words. This amount is often considered the minimum amount to start to combine words into phrases.
  • 2 years between 200 and 300. By now they are typically combining words into 2 word phrases
  • 2 and a half about 450 words and lots of phrases.

If you would like to know more about what to expect at what age I have developed an e-book of typical milestones and how to support your toddlers talking.

You can find it here.

Now, to get ready for the next phase of his life as he heads off to Uni.

 

 

 

How do I develop my toddlers language skills?

This is a question I get asked a lot.

We all know not to compare our kids (or ourselves) but it still happens. Must be something about being human. But I hear parents of young children (typically between 18 months and 3 years) who find themselves with a little one who may not be doing things the same as their friends kids / sibling / cousin…and they wonder…what can I be doing?

There is a lot I can share to answer that question because it is one of my passions in life – helping little people find their voice. Giving them some self-determination.

But here would be 3 of my top tips to support toddler language development.

1. Serve and return… when your child communicates with you (word, gesture, sign, eye gaze whatever they do) then respond to them…. so we want to have conversations… turn taking. It is a bit like a game of tennis and the more turns you can each have the stronger the impact on language development.

2. Follow their lead… let them lead the conversation so you are talking about what they are interested in…

Let’s say you are having a tea party.
I would have my own baby and then I would copy what the child is doing… so let’s say he is feeding the baby. I would feed my baby and I would say “baby hungry, my baby hungry”… then pause and see if he joins in.

3. Add words… if your toddler is using no words you give him single words… if he is at two word phrases you give him three and so on. Add the words for them to hear, copy and learn.

 

Here is a video I did sharing why the first three years are so important from the perspective of brain development.

The Power of Predictable Language

Routines are wonderful things.

They are predictable.

They can be verbal routines or they can be physical routines.

My 11 year old and I have a verbal routine that I love. We have been doing it for years and to be fair I don’t even know how it started. It goes like this….
Person 1: I love you
Person 2: I love you more
Person 1: I love you the most

Then we have over the years tried to better each other by…I love you forever or I love you to the moon and back or anything to try to trump ‘the most’ ..I love you infinity… but we both know that most is where it stops…so there is also a small measure of competition to be the one who starts it as then you can also be the finisher! But it is special and it is ours.

Other routines such as when you put them in the car seat, making them a drink, changing their nappy or as you push them on the swings. All of these provide opportunities for predictable language.

Which you can use to help build their talking and understanding.

Routines can be a people games, or a song or a rhyme. Anything your child loves.

Each time it starts the same way.

Each time you can offer your child a turn.

With predictable language you can use pauses to allow your child to see it is their turn….wait for them (I have to count in my head to 5 to keep quiet).

The end is usually the same. Which gives them a chance to request it again if they want!!

If you are looking for more information on what to expect with your young child’s communication development then I have an e-book for the typical milestones for communication development from birth to four years. You can download it here.

Puppies are perfect for building language!

If you have a small child, one way to support language development is to expand on what they are saying.

The other day we were out walking and I watched a small child (about 18 months) get enthralled by a small dog. He was saying to his family “puppy, puppy” and pointing. Their response was ‘yeah’. He said it again “puppy, puppy” and again “yeah”.

Now I have been there. When you have four kids there is always someone telling you something and you can be a little like “yeppity-yep” and your mind is a million miles away. But they weren’t distracted they were also watching the puppy. They were completely responding to their little one, which was wonderful to observe.

But, the speech pathologist in me sees this moment in time as a golden nugget. These are the moments were you can build your child from one word to two words.

If you are wanting to build your young child’s language. There is no better way than to expand on what they are already saying to you.

Using the above example, to build him from one word to two word phrases the conversation could have gone down like this:
Child: “puppy, puppy” (he was pointing too)
Adult: “Puppy, puppy rolling, puppy rolling on his back, puppy rolling”
Child: “puppy, puppy”
Adult: “gorgeous puppy”

So in this example, you are following his lead, you are adding language and you are engaged in what the researchers call ‘serve and return’ which is great for building brains and language!

Let’s say he was not saying the word ‘puppy’ but he was pointing (he was doing both).
Then you could say:
Child: pointing at puppy (with or without vocalization)
Adult: puppy, puppy, puppy rolling
Child: points to puppy again
Adult: puppy, funny puppy, puppy

So you don’t need anything fancy and special to build language in your children. Just keep an eye out for these golden moments when they are really wanting to share information with you. And build them up from there.

If you are wondering what age to expect your child to start combining words into sentences, I have compiled the typical milestones for communication development from birth to four years, with some tips to build your child’s language at each stage. You can get a copy of it here.

 

Routines – The Perfect Tool for Developing Language

I remember when my children were little and everyone would talk about routines. To be honest, I kind of heard blah..blah..blah.. as I am not a routine person. I like flexibility and I seem to really like change and as such when people would say you need routine. My brain would freeze a little. It seemed to mean when they slept, when they ate. So routine was a word that I did not really like.

However, as they got older and as I had more kids and as I cared less about what I ‘should’ do and more about what they needed from me I started to realise that there are routines all throughout the day. Most of them are a really positive experience. They are predictable, they are repetitive and they are perfect for building language.

Take for instance, changing a nappy. You are always going to lie them somewhere safe, often in the same spot. You will always take off an old and possibly very creative nappy that there may be a LOT to talk about, then you will clean them down and replace with a clean nappy and then you are finished. So each step of this you can be adding language, the same language every. single. time.

Your child gets to hear these words time and time again. Repetition is important to learning language. So routines provide a great place to build language.

If you think across your day you will spot routines, where building language is perfect. Common ones include:
• Nappy changing;
• Book reading;
• Pushing on a swing;
• Eating meals;
• Having a bath;
• Getting dressed.

So after a rocky start with the word ‘routine’, I now find myself encouraging parents to look for the routines that they have in their day and then use these to build language and connection with their young children.

A routine we did have that mostly I loved was reading to them before bed. Some nights were rough when I was really exhausted. I remember one night reading to my youngest and at the end of the book she noted that I had not read the words at all and as it had transpired I had debriefed my whole day at work to her whilst turning the pages! This routine has morphed over the years but that time before bed still remains a time for talking and connecting with each of my children.

As example, of how you can use routines – say you have an 18 month and they are not using words. But they love swinging. Then after you put them in ….. wait a bit…..with anticipation… then say “go”….(and push them)….then stop the swing and hold it….wait some more….also with anticipation…then say “go”…”go”…. (then push them)… Keep doing this. They will learn the word ‘go’. The routine becomes that before you release them for the swing, you say the word ‘go’. At first you model it all the time but they will soon join in.

Have fun with it!

If you are keen to know more about what to expect with language development then you can head here for typical milestones from birth to four years.

Is swapping sounds normal??

Parents are often concerned when their child is swapping sounds in words and I often get asked what sounds to expect at what age?

It is a good question.

I do think though one of the funniest things as a parent can be how our kids say words. I remember when I was a young child watching my cousin hold the floor and he would have been about 2 years of age. Not a word that he said made any sense at all. But he was telling us a story, I am quite sure with jokes. I suspect this experience was part of the reason I choose to become a Speech Pathologist. It was hilarious!

I love having conversations with little people and holding a straight face!

But in response to the question, the short answer is:
As a rule of thumb. 3 year old children should be understood by those close to them. Most of what they say (75%) is likely to be understood by people who are not close to them. By 4 years of age, everybody should be understanding everything. This does not mean that their talking is 100% the same as an adult it is just intelligible and can be understood.

Speech Pathologists look at if the child can actually say the sound, this is called articulation. By 5 they should be able to actually say all sounds, some children may still have difficulties with r, v and th but all the others they should be able to produce.

We also look at how they are putting the sounds into words. Some children will be able to say all the sounds, but when they combine them into words they change them. This is known as phonology. It is very common for a 2 ½ year old child to say ‘tar’ for car (this is known as ‘fronting’), or to say ‘bu’ for bus (final consonant deletion). It is not for a four year old.

If you are looking for more detailed information about typical speech and language milestones in the first four years and how to help your children’s language development  then I have created this resource and you will find it here.

If you are worried I would encourage you to seek help.

Also, have their hearing checked. Especially if regular middle ear infections are something your child is experiencing.