Family Man

Talking the Talk

Do you adult when you talk to your kids?

Let’s talk about talking. Specifically, the way we parents talk with our kids.

Since I don’t claim to be an expert on being a dad — except when editors of a Kalamazoo-area publication geared toward parenting ask me — I try to be very observant of how people parent. One of the aspects I give a lot of thought to is how parents talk to their children. There seems to be a wide range of approaches on this subject, and what makes it tricky is that the way we talk to our children is often a blend of long-term conscious decision and in-the-moment response.

At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the “Mooshies.” Mooshies are those parents who use high, sing-songy tones when they speak and words coupled with rhyming variations of said word: “Cutesy-wootsie” or “Snug-bug.” I’ve observed some parents speaking to their almost-teenage children about their “ouchies.”

At the opposite end, are parents who talk to their children as if the kids are just another adult in the room. It’s not an “ouchie,” but a “minor laceration,” and it won’t feel better if Dad kisses it, because that would increase the chance of infection as people’s mouths have germs and those shouldn’t be touching an open cut. And stop crying, you’re almost three.

I’m sure there is a ton of research on the pros and cons of each approach, and I fully intended to delve into it one Sunday. By “delve into it,” I was going to do a quick Google search of it. When I did Google it, some videos of little kids saying hilariously cute things popped up and so I watched those and then Google recommended that if I like those then I might like some videos of animals moving their mouths with human voices dubbed in, so then I watched those. And then it was Monday.

If you’ve read the Family Man column before, you know that a common punchline for me is that there is a happy medium in many of the parenting aspects I’ve written about. So, it may surprise you that on this particular issue I actually choose a side: I fall very firmly in the “talk to your kid like an adult” camp.

Now, I should say that it’s not a judgment issue. I didn’t make that choice because I feel it’s the “right” choice. I’m pretty sure if I had actually taken the time to do any research, I would have found that it really doesn’t make a big difference. I’m sure there are isolated case studies that authors use to sell books, but overall I don’t feel like the success levels of adults are striated by the floweriness of their parents’ interactions with them.

I also want to mention that I don’t talk to my daughter about things she would clearly not understand or that are inappropriate for her age. She’s seven. Babies get in a woman’s stomach by God. End of story.

Whether it be in content or delivery, I made the decision a long time ago to talk to my daughter in a more mature fashion because it just felt like the better fit for me. When she asks about anything, it feels natural for me to tell it like it is and not get big-eyed and flowery.

A perfect example of this happened recently when we were watching America’s Got Talent. An 11-year-old singer was the show’s winner. My daughter likes to sing and she’ll often pause the show to start singing.

“Do you think I could win America’s Got Talent?” she asked.

“The singers on that show have practiced a lot,” I said. “I think if you really focused and practiced a lot, you could be a good singer some day.”

“No, but do you think I could win?” she asked.

“No. Not even close right now,” I said. “But, if you practice a lot, then still probably not, but you could still be very good. Again, with years of practice.”

Judge if you want, but the net result is that my girl now sings all the time and is insisting on voice lessons. Maybe it’s just to spite me or maybe it’s because I set reasonable expectations with actionable steps. Yeah, it’s more likely spite.

It would be very interesting to be able to go to a parallel universe to see what would have happened if I had responded, “Of course you’d win! You’re the besty-westy singer in the whole wide world!”

Would that have empowered her, boosted her confidence, made her practice even more? Would it have yielded the same result as the delivery I gave originally? Or would it have just checked some sort of box and sent her looking for a new thing to be told she’s the best at?

I’m not sure. Again, ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter. I just make sure she knows I love her and want the best for her. There are a lot of different ways to show it. Almost as many ways as there are awesome animal videos dubbed with human voices.

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