You know, I was always so nervous around kids. If they said something that I didn’t understand, I would freak out inside and say to myself, oh my goodness, I didn’t understand, what if they think I don’t like them, what should I do? Honestly, it was like that. I would sometimes just say, “oh okay”, or, “oh ya….”, just like I have seen countless people do. That’s all I knew, so I did it.
Now, I’m a mom and I get the deal. Kids want nothing more than to communicate with us, to be a part of the world, to be seen and heard. They don’t care if they have to say it a thousand times, they just want us to get it. I realized pretty early on, and thank goodness, that I could just ask Zara to try again. Hahaha, what a simple idea, and man does it work. I feel like a genius. Since Zara was first using sign language and then her beginner words, I would say, “Oh sorry Zara, I didn’t understand, can you keep trying again?” and then she would try again. As she got more verbal, she tried saying it again, and then seeing my puzzled expression, she would try saying it louder. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. Then I started asking her to say it a different way and I would show her some examples of how to say the same thing but in different ways, and that really really helped her. Then I started asking her to give me hints and holy moly does that ever work. She gives such brilliant hints sometimes, I’m amazed and so pleased for her, she will always be able to be understood if she wants to and if the people who are listening to her want her to be understood, if they can get over the societal freak out about understanding kids.
To give us all credit, unless you have a kid, you don’t have your kid-ready ears on, but you can relax, you can breathe and know that it’s okay to look the kid in the eyes and say, “Oh I’m sorry I didn’t understand, can you try again?” instead of just looking wild-eyed at the parents, you can breathe and ask the kid again. Simple, eh? So easy to do, so calming for everyone and it helps give the kids a voice, to let them know that what they are saying is important, instead of something that can just be “ummm, okayed,” or “ooh, really?” even when that answer doesn’t apply at all.
Here is an example of the hints that Zara gives, “Daddy, it’s okay, the ducky has lots of xiuroug.” The last word was the one Robbin and I didn’t understand at all. She was referring to her duck that had just fallen on the floor. So Robbin and I both looked at her and repeated the word we didn’t understand, with an inflection of what…So she gave us a hint right away, she said, “you know, like the ducks in the creek (we have a creek nearby that is full of ducks for the winter, and we visit them often), they have lots of fur and feathers, and they float.” So then, right away, Robbin and I knew that the word we didn’t hear before “xiuroug” was really fur, that the duck didn’t get hurt when he fell off the chair because he has lots of fur (he’s a stuffed animal duck). There you go. A hint, with a sentence, and we understood and she is proud of herself because she can make herself understood. Gold. Pure gold. It makes my heart sing.
The other day, Zara was going to hang out with Grandma and Grandpa, whom she loves very much (so do we!). And I for some reason remembered to tell them that if they don’t understand anything she says, just to ask her again and then to ask her for a hint. So Robbin and I came back a few hours later and Grandma told me that Zara gives really good hints and that they always understood her. Brilliant.
I hope to share this around, it’s okay if we don’t understand, it’s okay to ask someone to say it again, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you are stupid, it just means that you need to ask for clarification, from your kid, from your boss, from the person giving your directions, it’s applicable everywhere. Let’s all know that we are okay, that we can breathe, that kids (and all of us really!) deserve to be asked, deserve to be understood, deserve to be heard. Why do people ask me how old Zara is instead of asking her? It’s all part of the same thing! Ask her! She looks 5 but she’s almost 3. Let’s let the kids speak! Let them be heard and understood! They are people too!!! And so are well! We all deserve this and we can all do this. I’m going to keep this in my heart the next time I don’t understand something that someone is telling me, I’m going to say, “Oh, I don’t quite understand, can you try telling me in a different way, I got confused about this part,” and I’m going to know that I can use my words, to make sure I understand, to make sure I am heard and seen and even understood. I love me and this is what I can do. I love children, and this is what we can do for them. Let’s not just use filler words with them, let’s not just over-praise them or control them, let’s see them, coach them, teach them and love them.