When my daughter was about 18 months old, her pediatrician was concerned about her lack of vocabulary. Obviously nobody was expecting her to recite Shakespeare, but my kid was not saying anything at all other than Starbucks, Mama, and Dada. Yes, embarrassingly enough, Starbucks was one of her first words, but that is another story. Anyway, he recommended she be evaluated for speech therapy.
A couple of weeks later I had three lovely women at my house evaluating my daughter not only for her speech, but also for motor and social skills. She faired well in the last two, but was lacking in the first. Since she only borderline failed the test, they pretty much left it up to me if I wanted to pursue formal speech training. Obviously, concerned that my daughter might be ruining her chances of going to a good college, I signed her up as quickly as I could.
During the first session, I expected the speech therapist to be face-to-face with my daughter helping her form words. That was not the case at all. Instead, she watched me. It was a little unnerving, but I went along with it. Towards the end of the hour, she sat me down and said, “Okay, I know what the problem is.” All I wanted to say was, “You spent most of your time looking at me! Your hardly spoke with my daughter! How could you possibly know what the problem is?” Thankfully I kept my thoughts to myself and I am glad I did. I quickly found out why she is a speech therapist and I am not.
Turns out that evaluating mom was all she needed to do to realize that I was the problem. She said to me, “Your daughter is smart. She is actually very smart. She is so smart in fact, that she has you fooled. She knows that she has no need to say anything, because before she actually has a need, you have anticipated it. With a little wimper, she has you running to her, tending to her every demand.”
I think the way she actually said it was a lot kinder but I took it like a spear to the heart. No parent wants to hear, “You are failing”, no matter how nicely they put it! So what exactly did she suggest I do? I needed to let her be uncomfortable. I needed to force her to speak by not running to her every time I perceived a sign of distress. She wrote down a few practical things that we could work on like reading repetitive books and avoiding yes or no questions. She wanted me to ask my daughter, “Do you want juice or milk?” instead of “Do you want milk?” I quickly got the picture and I had no choice but to get to work.
It was not easy watching my daughter cry as she struggled to communicate. Okay, for me it was a cry of unbearable distress, for my husband, it was just her being whiny. Either way, my daughter learned pretty quickly. Within a few weeks, she was talking like a parrot. Even the therapist was surprised at how quickly she was progressing. To this day, my daughter is a talker and people are always surprised to find out that yes, she needed speech therapy. Or more accurately, I needed parenting therapy.
I learned a big lesson from that therapist and God bless her for it. It is a lesson I have taken to heart and let it seep into other areas of parenting. Basically, sometimes, we just need to let our kids struggle. We need to let them figure things out on their own and we can’t run to them every time they want help. It is how they grow. It is how they become independent. It is how they learn to problem solve. That is ultimately what we want right? We want our kids to soar. We don’t want our thirty-year-old kid calling us every time there is a sign of trouble. When they are two it is cute. When they are thirty it is not so cute. Bottom line? Let them cry. Let them struggle. They will thank you for it.
(As a side note, for anyone that is interested, one of the books recommended by the speech therapist was “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. My kids love this book and it is great. It really did help my daughter during speech therapy and also when she started reading. No to mentioned it helped her learn her colors too! There is another one similar to it and also pretty good, “Polar Bear, Polar Bear.”)