Every once in a while, I get to partner with a campaign that aligns so much with my own values that it makes me a little giddy that this is my job. This past weekend, I had the chance to attend Camp Mighty and meet with some folks from the Too Small to Fail campaign to learn more about what they are doing. Essentially, the campaign exists to address the building blocks of language and development in a child’s first five years of life, to ensure that parents understand the importance of connecting and talking with their kids on long-term development. In our meeting, I shared how personal this was to me, as an adoptive mom who has witnessed the effects when a child spends his early years in an under-stimulating environment. As a therapist, I’ve always believed that a parent’s attentiveness is paramount to a child’s development, and I have seen that play out in my own family.
A study on language acquisition suggested that children in low-income households hear 30 million fewer words than children from high-income households by the age of four. There are many socio-economic reasons for this . . . stress and work schedules being among them. Unfortunately, research also suggests that early experiences leave a lasting impact on children’s health, learning, and behavior, and that children who fall behind in language acquisition are likely to stay behind—leading to achievement gaps in our schools
One of the most important things parents can do to promote brain development is to talk, sing, and engage with our children. The more words our kids hear in everyday interactions with adults, the better prepared they will be to learn.
Here are a few of the ways we work on getting our kids talking in my own family:
Highs and lows: Every day when I pick the kids up from school, as soon as they hop in the car, we do “highs and lows”. We do this so frequently that the kids now initiate it themselves. It refers to them sharing a high point and a low point from their day. I find this a much better way to hear about their day than, “How was your day?” That question usually elicits a quick “fine” from my kids, but the highs and lows thing gets them talking.
Gratitude: When we sit down for a meal, we usually take a few minutes to go around the table and share something we are grateful for. This is a good way to get the kids talking, as well as a reminder to take stock of our blessings.
Table talk: I’ve written about this before, but we are huge fans of the Table Talk box. I bought these on a whim on Amazon last year and they were so worth it . . . they really do inspire great conversations. We have both the family version and the kids version, and actually have to limit the kids to 4 questions per meal, or we would be there all night.
Affirmations: We are also big fans of doing family affirmations, which involves each person going around the table and sharing something they appreciate about their other family members. I truly feel like when we do this, we have a more peaceful home. (This is true of our marriage as well.)
“Use your words”: I think this may be one of the most repeated phrases in our house, but we are constantly encouraging our kids to use their words to express themselves instead of tantrums or crying (or eye-rolls or passive-aggressive sighs as they get older.) When one of our kids seems emotional, we always try to be intentional with giving them space and attention to talk through it.
As a part of this campaign, I’ve made some new goals for our family that I think will increase our communication and connectedness. We are trying to learn to play guitar as a family, in the hopes that we can enjoy playing and singing with each other. I’m trying to finish scrapbooks because my kids love sitting together and reminiscing over printed pictures. I’m also hoping to teach each of my kids how to cook a meal they can make independently. (We’ve been watching Master Chef Junior and they are all very keen on the idea of cooking their own meals.) You can read the rest of my goals over at Go Mighty.
Do you have any strategies for getting your kids to talk? Any ideas for improving family communication and taking it a bit deeper?
This post was sponsored by Next Generation and the Clinton Foundation as part of the Too Small to Fail campaign. Several bloggers, including myself, have added goals on Go Mighty around spending more time with the kids in our lives. You can check them out here and join in by tagging #gomighty4kids on your kid-related goals.