We have a 15 month old and one thing that never fails to amaze me, as it has with our previous children, is how frequently people are surprised that our baby has a personality, senses of humor, and the ability to engage and play with people. Our baby K- runs around playing hide and seek, mimics behaviors with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and has facial gestures that make it darn clear that she’s teasing you and knows well when she’s doing something she’s not supposed to be doing.
She’s not alone. In fact, just about every baby I’ve ever encountered seems to have lots of personality and a desire to engage and play with the people around them. So why are people — even other parents — surprised?
My thinking on this is that first off, lots of people seem to believe that until children can talk that they don’t have any sort of identity, so how can a baby, a 10 month old, say, possibly interact with the people around them?
Certainly, the quality of your relationship with your child changes (and, yes, improves, in my opinion) as they learn how to communicate more effectively. There’s a certain parental joy in having them say “tummy hurts” rather than you forced to play the perpetual guessing game of “what’s the matter, baby?”
I think that what’s going on here is more subtle, though. It’s more akin to why people who see someone with a disability assume that they’re stupid too (no kidding. Ask the next person you see who is wheelchair bound how often people assume they’re a blithering idiot too. You’ll be surprised), it’s a sort of “ability-ism”, a subtle discrimination or prejudice against people with different abilities. Without really thinking it through, lots of parents just think “can’t talk = can’t interact” and “crying baby = no personality yet”.
From the moment they’re born, however, we’ve talked with our babies as if they did understand us, in full and coherent sentences. They’re simple sentences, but I’d always rather hear a parent say “do you need a nap, sweetheart?” to “nap-nap, baby?” or some quasi-meaningless baby talk. Blech. I bet that baby talk drivel gives babies the heebie-jeebies too!
One of the really cool benefits of speaking coherently to your babies that we’ve found is that they learn to understand regular English a lot faster. Our fifteen-month-old now unquestionably understands hundreds, if not thousands of different sentences. She’s fully a part of our family, dynamic, highly (highly!) interactive, and great fun.
And our older kids are exceptional in their ability to understand others, their ability to express themselves, and their ability to play comfortably with older children, all of which are great life skills.
So let me end this by asking a question: if you’re reading this blog, you’re already a smart parent (by definition, right?! 🙂 so how often do you encounter people who are surprised by how engaging your youngsters are, how amazed they are that your baby has … a personality?