When words fail me

MARK HOTTON
Last updated 13:38 09/09/2013
And Baby Makes Four
stimes midstrip hotton 11feb13

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OPINION: The ability to communicate with each other clearly and succinctly is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Well, that and opposable thumbs.

Yet getting your message across to a work colleague or a mate can sometimes be a challenge. Trying to explain something new to an adult can, at times, be difficult.

But when the person you're trying to talk to is little, and by that I mean not even 3 years old, it's often just impossible.

Communicating with your children is one of the most frustrating things known to mankind. Because they just don't listen. Or they listen to the weirdest things you say and repeat them endlessly.

I've accepted my daughter's inability to say dada, or dad, or papa. Despite my best attempts there's nothing that comes out of her mouth that sounds anything like a verbal reference to me. I don't know how many times I've tried to get her to form something like that - even her mother has taken pity on me and has tried. Piper just doesn't listen and respond accordingly, but to be fair she is only 9 months old. I'm OK with that - it will come.

On the other hand, the almost-3-year-old has developed the ability to listen and parrot. I know he hears what I say, because he'll regularly make references to things we've talked about once in passing. He's like a big sponge at the moment, soaking up everything. His vocabulary is impressive and he can hold great conversations with me on the telephone.

I know he can communicate. He can listen and he can respond in an appropriate way. So why is it such a challenge to get him to listen and respond appropriately at the important times?

I've lost count of how often we've told him to use his words rather than sit and whine. As a parent, the thing that probably annoys me the most is his whingeing. It's like fingers on a blackboard for me. We've tried for months to get him to use his words, rather than sit and whinge over the smallest and seemingly trivial things. Water drops on his bike? He'll whinge. A puzzle piece not fitting? He'll whinge. Piper looking at his toys the wrong way? He'll whinge.

We've tried hard to teach him to ask for help but without success.

As you know, you can't reason with a 2-year-old. You can't negotiate with them over food. And you can't get them to hurry when you need to be somewhere.

But, sadly, what I have found works is adopting the Dora technique. She spells out everything that's going to happen on the programme, usually three things, and repeats them. She's possibly the most annoying person on television, but this technique seems to help.

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If we're getting ready for preschool, I break it into three steps so he can see the school busses on the way: breakfast, get dressed and do teeth. Once they're sorted, we're on our way. Repetition certainly helps. The sad thing is I end up sounding like Dora, with the upward inflections on certain words. It's a worry.

So you can imagine the battles we have trying to get him to use his manners. He knows what they are because as soon as we say pardon after he asks for something, he'll chip in with please - but it's not automatic. I've tried ignoring his question until he uses the right words, but that usually fails.

I'm old school - I think children should be taught and made to use manners from an early age. I just don't quite know how to communicate that to my son.

* Mark Hotton is a fulltime journalist/ fulltime dad who found some long metal sticks and white balls in a bag in his garage and can't remember what they're used for.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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