Learning to effectively and efficiently communicate with your baby at an early age has huge implications in both the short and long term period. It not only strengthens the bonds between parents and their children, it also helps foster the conditions needed to raise Inspired Children. I recently interviewed Vivien Sabel, author of The Blossom Method: The Revolutionary Way to Communicate With Your Baby From Birth discovered that babies communicate meaningfully with their parents from day one but unfortunately, most parents haven’t been able to understand the subtle signs, signals, and non-verbal cues of their infant's language. Vivien had so much to share that I summarised it in a two part series, offering helpful advice on how Mums and Dads can learn what to look for and be empowered to actually communicate with their babies.
Lack of communication also affects parents
Vivien often sees parents in her practice who are frustrated with the lack of communication and contact with their own parents. Many adults report negative parenting experiences from their own childhood and, ironically enough, their own children also report having the same issues with them. It's a vicious cycle that is constantly perpetuated along generational lines and at the root of the matter, is the inability to learn how to understand subtle body cues, relate to unheard non-verbal gestures that speak volumes, and connect with each other from early on in life.
As a type 'baby sign language', The Blossom Method starts the process early by opening and keeping the communication between parents and their babies going long before the little ones learn to talk. Children understand from an early age that they are being heard and acknowledged, which eventually makes speech development, mutual trust, and respect flow effortlessly.
The long lasting implications
The research has shown that babies whose parents consistently responded to their needs during their formative years were more likely to form healthier, more stable social bonds and relationships as they became older. One theory is that early communication helps children become emotionally intelligent, making them better able to express themselves and self regulate, which in turn, builds self confidence, self-esteem, and resilience. Their emotional and cognitive development is usually more advanced than babies who lacked this great opportunity early in life.
Open other avenues of communication
Like most parents, I understood the importance of being there for my son early on in his life. Imagine how frustrating it can be if you were in desperate need of something, but despite your best efforts, trying to make those around you understand your feelings and thoughts was almost impossible? Imagine how frustrating it is as an adult when you're trying to get your point across, but people just don't get it? Now imagine doing that and being young and vulnerable!
One of the benefits of the Blossom Method for new parents and the Inspired Children program for parents of 4-14 year old children is that they help parents and their children find more creative ways to communication. When our son Cameron was young I tried to be creative in our communication and I found that he also opened up more unique ways for him to get his point across. As a baby, he mimicked my hand movements long before he could speak which, in a sense, was his way of learning to sign (but not in the traditional way of learning sign language – just our own unique sign language – but it really worked for us).
His little gestures made me wonder about how much more information he was trying to tell me that I couldn't understand because I couldn't interpret it. I realised that he grasped I was trying really hard to understand him, so he was patient and willing to keep making gestures and signs until I actually did. As he grew older and his communication became words - sometimes words only he understood - he remained patient with me when I didn’t understand and used different words and gestures. I think he has developed a skill for life in his ability to patiently persist and use many ways get his point across. As toddler Cameron couldn’t say the “c” or “k” sound. I remember this incident clearly, he was trying to tell me about a “clock” and as you can imagine without the “c” sound I just couldn’t get it no many times he repeated the word. After several attempts he did his best to say “Tit Tot” in relation to clock and I finally got it I repeated “tick tock clock” and the smile beamed across his face and I praised is tenacity in helping me to understand! I truly believe that our early and continued effective and respectful communication will serve him well for life.
Another great example of how creative ways of communication can open up our understanding of not just what they are thinking but what our children are feeling is from Vivien's daughter, Blossom. When she was very young, her older brother didn’t live with them and after a family trip she felt sad about seeing her older brother leave, she turned to her mum and expressed that her chest hurts.
"Where does it hurt?"
"Where my heart lives."
After observing Blossom's body language, Vivien was able to deduce that she was sad to see her brother leave and expressed how much she already missed him. Blossom used her body to convey her emotional state and Vivien was able to understand to true meaning of what her daughter was saying almost in an instant.
Mimicking is the key to being a good listener
Vivien explains that many times, parents believe that by engaging their children in family activities, they can develop a rapport with their kids. Sadly, this isn't the case. Playing with your child doesn't automatically make your child open up to you about their feelings and parents need to learn how to understand all the things that their children aren't saying and be able to reflect their general mood. If your child has had a rough day at school and comes home listless and sluggish, they aren't going to open up to you if your mood is upbeat and vibrant. Your child will feel disconnected and believe that you wouldn't really understand what has happened in his life. If parents can learn to take subtle cues from their children's body language and reflect it back to them, they are more likely to get their kids to open up about deeper issues.
Never underestimate their children's emotional intelligence
As a therapist Vivien often observes that oftentimes parents have experienced something in their own childhood that has kept them in the childlike state or that takes them mentally back to a time in childhood. Sometimes this feeds into their interactions and conversations with their children and that’s where it can harm relationships. For example, we’ve all experienced it - sometimes a parenting situation triggers an old wound from childhood where you were rejected, misunderstood or felt unloved and then unconsciously it’s easy to slip back into that 9-year old little girl or that 3 ½ year old little boy which then blocks parents ability to really listen and communicate with their children in the here and now.
Furthermore, parents often think that they are protecting their children by avoiding or oversimplifying ideas, when in actuality, children are very sensitive to the non-verbal cues and body language that is being expressed. They read that things are not all right with either parent or in the home in general, and sadly, come to accept that, "if it’s okay for Mum or Dad to hide their emotions and tell me that everything is all right when I can feel and I can see it’s not, then I should do so as well – that’s the right thing to do." Well we are their role model – if it isn’t right why are we doing it? Children are much smarter than we give them credit for, so if parents want build a great rapport with their kids, then they need to display that same level of openness that they expect from their children.
Calmer more confident parents
There's no denying it; the implications of being able to understand and respond to the needs of your baby has far reaching impact in the quality of your life and your child’s life from childhood through to old age. Parents who have used the Blossom Method often tell Vivien that they find themselves being calmer and more confident when they first hold their precious little one in their arms for the first time. Since they have learned to quickly recognise and understand the meaning of general facial gestures from their newborn, they feel armed and prepared to delve into the world of Parenting. New Mums and Dads find that their anxiety is minimised and, in turn, isn't reflected onto their infants, resulting in a more positive bonding experience for everyone.
Building rapport with your children involves much more than chatting over a bowl of cereal; it requires a deeper understanding of the numerous non-verbal cues from both parents and their kids. Learning the essential life skills of effective Communication and emotional intelligence begins from as early as the first hour after birth and lasts throughout your children’s lives as the communicate with family, friends and peers. By creating the mental, emotional, and physical conditions that will foster such development, parents can ensure that their kids will grow to be well-balanced, happy, and healthy Inspired Children.