Help Along the Way: let’s talk about talking

[1]We were worried. She was six months old and then nine months old and not a word. Yes, she would blow raspberries, yes a tiny bit of babbling, but it seemed accidental. Her first year birthday passed with very little speech, no “Mama” or “Dada.” Around month fifteen or sixteen, at the dinner table, she sat up straight as an arrow, pointed outside and said clear as bell, “That is a lawnmower.”

Children are born with the longing to communicate. Human persons use this communication to connect. We are wired for connection.  

Developmental psychologists tell us that every human person comes into the world looking, reaching, and longing for connection. They tell us that even within the womb the child is connecting with the mother’s voice, the mother’s smell, and even with the mother’s heart beat. After a child is born the child searches the parent’s eyes for connection.

This longing for connection is woven into every human person. From the moment we breathe our first breath we are governed by this longing to connect.

Not only are human person wired for longing, we were created from longing. The Creator God longed us into existence. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” says Jeremiah. (1:5) The Psalmist reminds us, “for it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (139) And Paul explains it to us in Ephesians, “for he chose us, in him, before the creation of the world.”

Can you hear that?

You were chosen. God, who needed nothing else to be whole, God, whose joy was complete before one ounce of creation, longed for you. The parable of the lost sheep found in Matthew 18:10-14 is a parable about longing. A shepherd who longs for his sheep so intensely that he leaves the 99 to find the lost 1. God has been longing for you, longing to connect with you since before your very beginning.

And we mirror that longing back to God. We also long for God. Just as we are hard wired to seek connection with our caregivers, we are hard wired to see connection with God. We are not whole, we are not complete until we are connected to God and so that hard-wired longing pulses in our hearts and minds and bodies. Constantly urging us towards connection.

Speech matters because it helps children connect.

In the fifth lecture in the Great Courses series, Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive, Dr. Vishton helps us understand the process of speech development in children. He stresses the complexity of speech and advises using sign language with babies in order to connect.

Again, Dr. Vishton reminds us that babies, infants even, are hearing, thinking creatures and that even though the complicated process of speech isn’t fully functioning until two or three years of age, we can begin to communicate and connect with our babies much earlier.

Here are a few of his tips to connecting with our babies:

"Talk with your baby as soon as you meet them."

Speak with him or her using “Motherease.” Anthropologists tell us that people around the world use this voice and that babies are drawn to it. Motherease is high-pitched, slower, singsong speech. The hearing rage of babies is higher than older children or adults. (Wow! What a great design!)

Also speak to babies as you would to an adult. Just the opposite of the above tip. Motherease meets them where they are, adult speak helps them to learn the next step.

I noticed that Dr. Vishton encourages speaking to the child not necessarily speaking about the child. Speaking about someone is significantly less connective than speaking to someone. This is true in our life with God as well. Speaking about God is significantly less connective than speaking to God.

Speak with children using sign language or body movements. The vocal gymnastics required to make words can take a long time to learn, but the longing to communicate and connect is present from the beginning. So start connecting with you child using something a little easier namely their bodies.

A quick google search will offer many books, web sites and even apps on baby sign language. You don’t need to be an expert, just a few signs to foster connection.

Dr. Vishton even champions the freedom to forgo “official signs” altogether and create your own.

As often as I can, I wander over to the next town and participate in the Saturday night Verspers Prayer service at the Russian Orthodox Church. There are many moving moments for me over the course of 90 minutes, but one that produces awe and gratitude every time is watching the small children honor the Icons and worship God with their bodies.

An Icon is a “picture[2]” of someone from the Great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12.1). It is a window into the Eternal reminding us that we are not alone and that the Kingdom of God is here. At the beginning of the worship service each person walks around to the Icons and offers a greeting laced with honor, which culturally is a kiss and the Sign of the Cross.

I have watched parents hold their babies up to kiss the Icon in the same way I have watched parents hold their babies up to kiss their great aunts. This is connecting with the family. I have watched parents teach their children to pray with their bodies by making the Sign of the Cross, or bowing or kneeling. This is connecting with God.

Ideas for helping our children connect with God through their bodies:

·      Place their tiny hands together when you pray as a family.

·      Sing Jesus Loves Me and add some body movements.

·      Learn the Sign of the Cross together. This link can show you how.

·      Learn to pray the Lord’s Prayer with your children using bodies. See this guide.

·      There are so many more ways, please feel free to add yours to this list in the comments.

We are learning together, 妈妈和爸爸, isovanhemmat, Aunts and Uncles, Friends, and Teachers. 


[1] If you are just now tuning into this blog series, it is a conversation with the Great Courses series, Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Peter M. Vishton.


[2] My deepest apologies for using the word “picture.” It is woefully incomplete, but alas I don’t have space for a longer, more honoring description of Icons. If you are interested, check out The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green.