While we should have higher expectations for a verbal child than for a child who is just learning to talk, we still should have reasonable expectations regarding a pre- or newly verbal child’s language and behavior. This is the time to build a strong behavioral foundation. As both a mom and a teacher, I have always found it easier to train from the beginning, even with the additional support required early on, than it is to retrain an older child down the road.
I live by the book Babywise, and one of its touchstones is “begin as you mean to go.” I thought about this a lot when Keener was in his first year, and it has resurfaced in my daily thoughts now that my daughter, Grace, is almost 14 months and beginning to talk. While I don’t expect her to say, “crackers, please,” I do model it by saying it outloud myself each time she is making sounds and pointing at the crackers. Even though she needs a lot more support at this stage, I am still setting this as an expectation. By creating the expectation and providing a heavy amount of support, I am laying a strong foundation for the skill to develop. Once it does, she knows “crackers, please” is the desired behavior and it will quickly become the norm. Setting verbal expectations also has the added benefit of helping her develop her vocabulary.
Even at this age, your expectations do not have to be limited to language. I know that my 14 month old is sometimes going to throw food off her high chair. But each time she does, I say to her Grace, we keep our food on the tray. If you don’t want it, you can put it down and say, ‘ no thank you.’ I will take her hand and physically show her where I expect her to place food she doesn’t want. I did this with Keener as well and I can’t remember the last time he threw food he didn’t want. I still occasionally have to prompt him when he tries to hand me unwanted food, but it’s a small prompt of you can put it on your plate and say… and he will finish my sentence by saying no thank you. He then places his food on his plate. No meltdown, no fuss, no discussion.
Finally, I also expect my pre-verbal babies to sleep. After sharing my “sleep tip” email with many friends, I have decided to add a sleep section to the blog. Stay tuned! I view sleep as something I expect and again, it is my role to teach them how to do it and to provide assistance until they can master the skill on their own. And what a glorious night it is for everyone once that expectation is met!
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