March 16, 2017
by Mary Pat
0 comments

What you need to know about speech development when your child speaks more than one language

So my last post was all about speech development and delay in general. How to know if your child might have one and what to do about it. You can read that post here: http://talknua.com/would-you-know-if-your-child-had-a-speech-problem/

 

This week’s post is about children who speak more than one language and speech development. Oh my God, reading the research nearly wrecked my head! One word comes to mind: complex….actually other ones came to mind too when I was wading through the studies- most of the words too rude to put here!

 

So what’s the story then? Well, the research has tended to compare multilingual children with children who speak one language. Which is like comparing apples and oranges instead of comparing apples with apples. Not particularly meaningful. But that’s what’s out there.  What did they find? I’ve done my best to keep it simple but all the same, fasten your seatbelts!

 

Some studies found that in comparison to children who speak one language, multilingual children have speech sound skills that are more advanced. They call this positive transfer. But wait for it…they also have speech sound skills that are less advanced. They call that negative transfer.

 

What else? This stuff is SO confusing to read.  It’s a bit like the story of the blind men and the elephant. But here are 6 definites.

 7 truths about speech development & speaking more than one language

 #1 speech development is complex whether you speak 1 language or 4. It starts while your baby is still inside you; hearing the intonation patterns of the languages around them- I love that! And there are lots of ingredients that go into learning to speak. More of that later.

 

#2 Where children are acquiring multiple languages (which is actually the global norm) the languages interact with each other which leads to variation in their speech development and makes it hard to have definite facts.

 

#3 These interactions mean that there can be positive and negative transfer across languages.

There are numerous studies that show positive transfer. In one study of Maltese and English speaking children (aged 2-6), the bilingual children had more consonant accuracy, speech was more consistent, and they had fewer speech errors than monolingual children. This is positive transfer. Negative transfer then is where the multilingual child makes more errors and more uncommon errors (when compared to children who speak one language).  And there are lots of studies showing this too! One study involving Cantonese-English speaking bilingual children ages 26-67 months found that the bilingual children did not have as wide a range of speech sounds as the monolingual children.

 

#4 So what’s the bottom line? Multilingual children seem to have overall speech development that is similar but not identical to monolingual children.

 

#5 Over the long term, when children have lots of quality opportunities to hear and use all of their languages, their speech sound development will match monolingual peers. 

 

#6 There are clear differences between languages when it comes to their influence on speech sound development. What makes things more complex is that the options for the combinations of languages in families is huge given the potential number of languages in the world and the potential family make-ups. Variety is the order of the day which makes generalisations hard to make from the research. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it means that the individuality of each child’s family structure and language patterns must be taken into account.

 

#7 Speech sound skills are not the same in each language. They tend to be spread differently across the languages. This is because the rules of languages are different. What does that mean? Well in Italian, words with many syllables are common. They’re less common in English. Consonants at the ends of words are more common in English. Not so common in Italian. I once assessed a little boy who spoke Italian and English and words like helicopter, crocodile, hippopotamus were much better in his English pronunciation than I would have expected for his age thanks to the Italian influence.

 

I also read a paper that reviewed 66 studies carried out over the last 50 years. Basically, what they say is that there is limited evidence to suggest that bilingual children develop speech at a slower or faster rate than monolingual children. There was evidence for more variation in the speech production of the bilingual children. Nearly all studies show evidence of transfer but the amount varies. It’s accepted that there are 2 systems interacting when the child is acquiring 2 languages. 

 

How does speech development happen? There are 3 processes involved with different skills needed for each stage.

 3 Processes of speech development: Input-Storage-Output

For input, your child has to be able to hear a sound and recognise that it is a speech sound in your language as opposed to an environmental sound like the tap dripping.

 

Then they have to store the sounds in the right order. And they have to store the meaning that goes with that sequence of sounds. And they also store what kind of word it is; noun, verb etc.  When they are older they’ll add the spelling.

 

Think about a new word you learned recently. Our favourite one for teaching the SLT students is cryptosporidium– a nasty little parasite in Galway water that gave us the runs. When it was on the news first, I couldn’t say it because I hadn’t stored the sound sequence. I knew the meaning but not the sounds. It takes practice to set down the right sequence and then I could say it no problem. And later I could spell it. That’s how word learning goes.

 

Output or production means their brains have to plan & execute the saying of the word accurately. They are little geniuses when you think about what has to happen for speech to develop!

 

Each of these skills is important for acquiring a competent speech sound system. This all takes from birth up to about age 6 +. After age 6 there are still some things to refine like intonation and stress in words like photography and for English speakers, the /r/ sound.

 

So what does all this mean for you and your child?

 #1 Speaking more than one language does not cause speech problems. This is universally agreed upon in the research and by professional bodies like the American Speech-language & Hearing Association (ASHA), the Royal college of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT) etc. (This doesn’t mean you won’t be told to drop a language. If you are told to drop a language, ignore them and read this instead: http://talknua.com/what-to-say-when-the-doctor-gets-it-wrong/

 

#2 There is greater variation in the speech development of children who are learning more than one language. This can make the precise identification of a problem a little harder to work out. What you can do about that is when you go to see a speech and language pathologist, have a clear description of:

  • the languages that your child is exposed to,
  • the amount of time (roughly) that they are exposed to each
  • the ages they were when they began to be exposed to the different languages.

 

# 3 It’s reasonable to allow a greater range of normal variation in the bilingual children and allow more time for speech milestones to be reached. For any child, when you look at ages at which they should be doing things, it’s always important to remember that these are rough guidelines and not written in stone. At the same time though, you should see your child making progress i.e. speech gradually getting clearer. It’s important to identify children with speech sound disorders sooner rather than later.

If you do go to see a speech and language pathologist, here are 2 things to bring along with you to your visit:

#1 This form which comes in lots of different languages. It’s a report of how easy or hard it is to understand your child. And it’s a great starting point for exploring potential speech problems.

http://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/ics

 

#2 This speech checker is for English but it will allow you to get a sense of what sounds your child is using at the start, in the middle, and at the end of words. http://www.speechchecker.com/

 

#3 If you do the speech checker for English, listen to your child speaking the other languages and make a note of what speech sounds you’re hearing. And write down examples of some words and how your child is saying them, especially if they are not saying them ‘correctly’ by adult standards. It doesn’t have to be precise, just a 1st attempt at mapping out their speech sounds.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends.  Be sure to leave a comment below about your child’s speech development.

Where is all this from? Here’s what I read:

Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2012). Sociolinguistic and cultural considerations when working with multilingual children. In McLeod, S. & Goldstein, B. (eds.) Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children.

 

Hambly, H., Wren, Y., McLeod, S. & Roulstone, S. (2013) The influence of bilingualism on speech production: A systematic review. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48(1), 1-24.

 

Goldstein, B. & McLeod, S.  (2012). Typical and atypical multilingual speech acquisition. In McLeod, S. & Goldstein, B. (eds.) Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children.

 

Gildersleeve-Neumann, C. and Wright K. (2010). English speech acquisition in 3- 5 year old Russian children learning English. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools 41, 429-444.

Let’s get talking!

MP 

 

March 2, 2017
by Mary Pat
0 comments

Would you know if your child had a speech problem?

Are you worried about your child’s speech development? If so, then this post is for you. You’ll find the latest research and 5 things to do if you think your child has a speech delay.

Speech is the pronunciation of their words. If they say tat when they mean cat or Sue when they mean shoe. When children start saying their first words and putting words together, they don’t sound like adults. There’s a process of development that they have to go through to get to adult speech. While their speech is developing, they’ll do things like leave off the last sound in the word so boat becomes bo. They’ll leave out sounds in words like spoon and say boon instead. I’m not talking about stuttering. I’ll cover that in a later post so be sure to sign up to get that in your inbox.

It’s also normal to not understand everything your child says to you.  How much should you be able to understand?

Here are the numbers:

At 18 months, you can expect to understand about 25% of what they say.

At 24 months, it’s between 25% & 50%

And by 36 months it’s between 75% and 100%

This is only a rough guide so don’t panic if this doesn’t fit for you.

The percentages are slightly different for when your child is talking with people who don’t know them very well.

So for unfamiliar listeners, here’s how it goes:

By 3 years, unfamiliar people should be able to understand about 50% of what your child says.

And by 4 years, even though your child may not yet have totally adult speech, most of what they say should be understandable. If it’s less than 2/3rds of what they say at this age, they need to see a speech and language therapist.

So how do you know if your child has a speech problem?

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) have a useful guide about the signs of speech problems in your child. Here’s what they say are signs of speech problems:
• If at 12-24 months, you child says the sounds puh, buh, muh, huh, and wuh incorrectly in words.

•If at 24-36 months, they say the sounds kuh, guh, fuh, tuh, duh, and nuh incorrectly in words.

• If between the ages of 24 to 36 months, they produce speech that is unclear, even to familiar people.

However, it’s important to remember that children vary quite a lot in their speech development.

 

What puts your child at risk for having a speech problem?

Sharynne McLeod and Elise Baker review the research on the risks in their book Children’s Speech. Now, although your child may tick several of the risk boxes, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have a speech sound problem. Some children who are mispronouncing words will grow out of it but at least half will need speech and language therapy.

There are lots of conflicting findings and gaps in the research but clear risk factors for speech sound disorders are being a boy, having on-going hearing problems, and having a family history of speech and language problems.

Here are 8 Red Flags for Speech Problems from Caroline Bowen’s book.

 
1. Not babbling or being late to babble. Babies generally produce strings of consonants and vowels at about 7 months or so. It sounds close to real words. And before 12 months, they should be babbling at least some of the time. You can listen to the different kinds of babble here: www.vocaldevelopment.com

2. Glue ear (posh name: otitis media with effusion) between 12 & 18 months is associated with speech delay.

3. Leaving out the first consonant in words isn’t typical if your child’s 1st language is English. So saying up when they mean cup. 

4. If your child has few consonants and/or vowels.

5. If they have problems with vowels after age 35 months or so. Many typically developing children under age 35 months make mistakes with vowels.

6. If they continue to leave out the last sound in a word at age 3 years. Typically, this goes away between 2 years 10 months to 3 years 3 months. If it persists, it might be sign of a speech problem.

7. Persistent, mild speech difficulties after age 6 years and 9 months of age are associated with difficulties learning to read and write.

8. If your child has an intellectual/learning disability, they’re more likely to have speech sound errors.

What can you do? Here are 5 Tips for Helping Your Child’s Speech

 
1. Trust your instinct and if you’re concerned then contact your local services. Children speech sound disorders make up a high proportion of the children on speech and language pathologists’ caseloads. Speech sound problems are common with studies indicating a range of 1.06% to 20.5% of children having a speech sound problem.

 
2. Be a good model of speech for your child. This means talking aloud about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Describing what your child is doing. Using a slow rate of speech yourself. Turning off any distracting background noises like the TV when you’re having a conversation with your child. You can find more ideas here in this quick video on Talk Nua’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e5ShcL4YnQ

 
3. Don’t correct their pronunciation. Young children often think that you have the listening problem so correcting them won’t make sense to them. Correcting them may only frustrate them or cause unnecessary awareness. Just repeat the word correctly after them once. No need to emphasise the pronunciation because this distorts the word. You can find more ideas here in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptEATK9XIg4 

 
4. You could write down the words they say and how they say them and bring this along to your appointment. Or give it to their teachers or child minders if they’re having trouble being understood there.

 
5. Fill out this form http://www.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/399970/ICS-English.pdf

It’s a measure of how your child’s speech is understood by a range of people like parents, immediate family, extended family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, and strangers. And bring it along to your appointment too. It’s a good idea for both parents to fill it out and your child’s teacher too as people can have different perceptions.

So this post is all about speech development where the family speak one language. But what about families where two or more languages are spoken? Be sure and sign up to get my next post about speech development in multilingual children.

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Let’s get talking!

MP

Sources
American Speech-Language Hearing Association http://identifythesigns.org/

Bowen, C. (2011). Table 1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [24/01/2017].
Bowen, C. (2015) Children’s Speech Sound Disorders. (2nd edition). London: Wiley.

McLeod, S. & Baker, E. (2017) Children’s Speech: An evidence based approach to assessment and intervention. London: Pearson

McLeod, S., Harrison, L.J., & McCormack, J. (2012) Intelligibility in Context Scale. Bathurst, NSW, Australia: Charles Sturt University. http://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/ics

Pascoe M. (2005) Speech Intelligibility: how to evaluate and provide treatment. CASANA: The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. http://www.apraxia-kids.org/library/speech-intelligibility/

February 10, 2017
by Mary Pat
0 comments

Is it selective mutism? Or the silent period?

So this week’s post is about selective mutism and what’s called the silent period in bilingual children.

Kate got in touch about her little girl who is 4 years old. She has an older sister who is 6 years old. Their parents are native English speakers living in Germany. Both girls have attended kindergarten since they were 2 years old so they are sequential bilinguals; acquiring one language at home until they enter education where they acquire a second language. Abby, the youngest suddenly stopped talking in kindergarten a few months ago. She’ll happily speak German with her sister at home but not in the kindergarten. She talks happily at home with visitors. She communicates non-verbally in the kindergarten and is happy to go there every day. Her parents and the pediatrician are not too concerned but the staff at the kindergarten are very concerned. Kate wonders is selective mutism a possibility? Another possibility is what’s called ‘the silent period’.

The name ‘silent period’ of language development doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t talk at all. It means that they aren’t speaking in the 2nd language. According to the American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA), when children first encounter the second language (for example in pre-school), they often focus on taking it all in; they devote time to listening and developing their understanding. This may be the first time they realise that their home language is not understood & that their 2nd language skills aren’t quite enough to communicate effectively. In terms of a time frame, ASHA talk about a few weeks or months for older children and for pre-schoolers, a year or more.

As they move through the silent period children may start to repeat words that they hear around them. For example, they might repeat phrases that they have memorised. Examples in English would be things like ‘What’s this?’ ‘Look at me!’ Then they may quietly start to produce new words and phrases before starting to speak publicly. The Hanen Centre say that children may use a kind of ‘formula’ first where they use a phrase that they have learned (like ‘I want’) and then they insert their own word at the end of the phrase. Gradually they become more and more fluent while still making some grammatical mistakes as they are missing some grammatical rules. So a child might say ‘I no want that’. Some of the mistakes at this point are just the influence of the first language. And then others are the same kinds of mistakes that monolingual children make as they acquire their language.

It’s hard to find recent information about selective mutism and as always, there’s variation in what you read. Here’s a summary of what I found in the research:

On one hand selective mutism is considered to be rare in some descriptions (about 1% of children who attend mental health services according to the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by health professionals)). Or not as rare as once thought (7 in every 1000 children according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). It’s described as a failure of the child to speak in at least one setting, while speaking normally in others and it’s considered to be an anxiety disorder. According to ASHA other symptoms include:
• not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication
• lasts at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school).
• failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language
required in the social situation
• not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering)

So Abby would not meet these criteria, suggesting it’s more likely to be the silent period.

About 1/3 of children affected by selective mutism are bilingual according to a recent feature in ASHA (See the link below). The reasons children who are immersed in a new language environment are at greater risk for selective mutism are that they may have increased anxiety due to being in a foreign social and language environment. They may become socially isolated at school if they don’t speak the language. Children who are naturally inhibited or anxious may get stuck in the silent period as being silent becomes a habit that‘s hard to break.

It can be hard to distinguish between the silent period and selective mutism but the ASHA article I mentioned suggests it’s selective mutism when the child
• remains silent even after a protracted period of second language acquisition
• is silent at school in their native language as well as in the language of the school
• appears shy, overly anxious, or inhibited.

In terms of preventing problems in second language learners, here are 9 tips for teachers:

1. Find a speech buddy who speaks the same native/home language as the child and with whom the child
can communicate at school
2. Take the pressure off by keeping your own language simple
3. Be okay with the child responding in their home language
4. Make the environment warm, welcoming, nurturing, and supportive for the child
5. Allow the child to work 1:1 or in small groups to decrease communication anxiety
6. Don’t remand or require speech
7. Create early, meaningful opportunities for simple language expression. For example, teach just
one or two key words or phrases that the child can use early in the language-learning process,
and reward the child when they are used in a communicative context. The word “more,” for example,
can be used extensively during snack time to get more food or drink
8. Continue to build the child’s understanding of the school language to foster greater confidence
in using it.

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Would you like your own question answered here? If so, just email me at marypat@talknua.com

Let’s get talking!
MP

Inspired by:

http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/SelectiveMutism/
http://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=1921108
http://selectivemutismcenter.org/home/home

February 9, 2017
by Mary Pat
0 comments

Get your child to behave better…now and forever

So it’s been one of those days where your proactive parenting has gone out the window. (What’s proactive parenting you ask? Read all about it here http://talknua.com/three-questions-to-ask-yourself-when-your-child-misbehaves/) But, you have remembered to connect with your child and validate their feelings after they have:

• Kissed your freshly-painted, white wall with mummy’s red lipstick (happened in our house!)

• Said very mean things out loud about another child in public (that’s us too…)

• Grabbed a toy off a much younger child and refused outright to share (you got it- us too….)

(Can’t remember that connect bit? Read it here http://talknua.com/the-first-step-towards-better-behaviour/) So what do you do next? The No Drama Discipline people call this next part 1-2-3 Discipline.

1 definition: Remember that discipline is about teaching. Not punishment.  For example, when my daughter pushed me over in fury about not going on a walk with me, I waited until later to have the conversation with her about it. After I had connected with her, acknowledged her feelings and she was calm. Then at bed time, I asked her ‘How d’you think it made me feel when you pushed me over?’ I could see her little conscience kicking in and a guilty look on her face. ‘Yay’, I thought- that’s exactly what I want to see. Guilt can be good! Natural guilt from thinking about what you did & how it made someone else feel.

2 principles: Wait until your child is ready & Be consistent but not rigid.

Let’s find out what these are. #1 Wait until your child is ready So when your child misbehaves, their upstairs, logical brain is temporarily unavailable. Lecturing won’t work! We have to wait until they have calmed down. And this might mean waiting until tomorrow.

Ask yourself ‘Is she ready to listen now?‘ If not, wait.

Say ‘I’d like to wait until we’re really able to talk and listen to each other. We’ll come back and talk about it in a while.

Or you can say ‘I’m too angry to have a helpful conversation about it now. I’m going to take some time to calm down. And then we’ll talk later’.

You can start the conversation by saying: ‘I’d like to talk about what happened yesterday at the library. That didn’t go so well did it?’

#2 Be consistent but not rigid.

This means having some definite non-negotiables like physical safety. Like your toddler isn’t allowed to run around alone in a busy car park. Or your school aged child isn’t allowed to swim without adult supervision. And then there can be some exceptions. They give the example of having a rule of no devices at dinner. But if you’re having dinner with another couple, you might decide to let your child play games quietly on your phone so you’ve a chance to talk. The idea is that you’re consistent but flexible when circumstances change.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson who wrote No Drama Discipline say to use do-overs. Let’s say your child says something disrespectful to you. You can teach them how to speak respectfully by saying ‘I bet if you tried again, you could come up with nicer way to say that’. They need practice to get it right; not punishment or a lecture.

3 desired outcomes

#1 Insight

When you connect and try to work out what’s going on for your child; you get insight into their inner world. And they develop insight into how what they do affects you and other people. Eventually this insight will help them control themselves better; their words and their actions. You can say things like

  • When she took away the doll, it looked like you felt really mad. Is that right?
  • I was watching before you lost it with your brother. It looked like you were getting more and more annoyed when he was at you. Is that what you were feeling?

#2 Empathy

Developing awareness of other people’s feelings. Seeing things from another people’s point of view. Thinking about how what they did made someone else feel. You can do this about real incidents but reading together and watching cartoons together gives great chances for chats about feelings. Asking questions like:

  • See she’s crying? Can you imagine how she might be feeling?
  • Did you see his face when you yelled at him? That must have been hard for him especially when he likes you so much.

In the book, the focus is on behaviour that upsets others, but you can do this for positive things too. Like I saw how delighted Katie looked when you gave her a big hello.

# 3 Making things better

Asking questions like: What can you do to make it better? What do you think needs to happen now? Saying sorry isn’t always easy! They say that sometimes it’s okay if you actually deliver the apology for your child. The two of you can agree on the wording beforehand. That’s better than a fake apology any day!

So that’s the No Drama Discipline way. The short version is:

  • Be proactive and spot trouble before it begins.
  • Connect before you direct. Our job is to make them feel safe and secure; that we are there to guide them through the hard stuff
  • Acknowledge what your child is feeling
  • Get below their eye levle to be less threatening
  • Wait until you’re both ready to have a useful conversation
  • Give them chances to practice saying things nicer and make things better.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends!

Let’s get talking,

MP

January 26, 2017
by Mary Pat
3 Comments

The first step towards better behaviour

So the last post was all about pro-active parenting from No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It covered 3 questions to ask yourself when your child misbehaves. You can read it here: http://talknua.com/three-questions-to-ask-yourself-when-your-child-misbehaves/

But let’s face it, we’re not going to see misbehaviour in advance every time. So what do you do when the misbehaviour has already happened? Well, connection  the foundation of the No Drama Discipline approach. What’s that? It means that we communicate to our child that we value our relationship with them no matter what their behaviour. That we are there for them when they really need us. Unconditionally. We communicate to them that we’re on their side whether we like the way they’re acting or not. It’s like how we would respond if they fell, scraped their knee and were in physical pain. That’s the connect part.

Then we redirect. That means setting clear and firm boundaries. But we may have to wait for what they call the teachable moments. When our child is very upset, that’s not the time to try and get them to see that grabbing that toy off the other child is not a nice thing to do.

This post is all about the 3 principles of connecting and the 4 strategies for carrying it off.

The 3 principles of connecting with our children:

So- how do we connect? What do we say or do? There’s no one way to do this but it there are 3 things to do.

#1 Turn down the shark music.

That basically means pausing for a moment before thinking here we go again. I can’t believe she did that again and so on. Not jumping to conclusions about what just happened because of something they did in the past.

# 2 Be curious about the behaviour.

Asking in our own minds things like:

I wonder why she did this.

What is she wanting here?

Is she asking for something?

Trying to discover something? Communicate something

The idea is that we try to understand their inner world before rushing to judgement. So for example we were at a birthday party recently where one of the party games involved sitting in a circle on the floor. The party girls were age 6 and a little 2 year old tried to join in by sitting between my little girl and another girl. This did not go down well and my daughter began to say some mean things. I was mortified but took her out of the situation for a little chat. Then I realised that what she actually wanted was to sit next to one particular girl and the toddler had got in the way. My own shark music suddenly stopped and her behaviour now made sense. That doesn’t mean it was acceptable behaviour though. Or that we didn’t have a conversation later about it. And I’m readier now for future party crimes!

# 3 Think about the how

That is how we talk to our children when they are having trouble managing themselves or making good decisions. So instead of using intense facial expressions, raised voices, we could keep our face relaxed and use a warm tone of voice. I like the statements too like instead of issuing a command, saying things like The door is open (You want them to close it). Your lunch box is on the table (You want them to put it in their school bag). I have a post about getting co-operation going here http://talknua.com/aye-aye-capn/

 

How we say things is important because it models how to talk to others for our child. We all know this right when we hear them chastising their dolls like mummy does! The  how influences how they feel about us, themselves and what they learn about treating others.

 

So what does is all look like in action? They describe 4 strategies in the connection cycle.

Strategy # 1 Communicate comfort

We hold our babies to calm them down and we soothe them right? And with our older children, we want to help them calm down when they need to. We can use words: It’s hard isn’t it? Can you tell me about it? The good news is that it’s more effective to do it without words. This means touching your child. And it might look something like this:

Putting your hand on their arm

Drawing them into a hug

Being below their eye-level

Rub their back

Hold their hand or give it a gentle squeeze.

Putting your arm around their shoulders.

This will release oxytocin and reduce cortisol which actually changes their brain chemistry and helps them calm down- amazing! We have to communicate to them that we’re not a threat because that would escalate the emotional intensity. And crouching down to be below their eye level is the quickest way to communicate safety and no threat.

 

Strategy #2 Validate their feelings

Resist the temptation to minimise what they are going through. This is hard! We want to focus our attention on genuinely appreciating their inner world, where they are coming from. The message we want to send is I get you. I see what you’re feeling and I acknowledge it. I can see how you might feel that way. I tried this recently when my little girl was crying because she coloured in the ‘wrong’ page in her school work book. She was very upset and I remembered this strategy. So I said You coloured in the wrong page and you’re very upset about it. You could almost see the upset drain out of her. Then another day she was saying something aggressive about hurting someone- I can’t remember the exact details. But that kind of talk usually alarms me but this time I said, I can understand how you’d want to do that. She was so surprised that I didn’t go into my usual lecturing about behaviour mode! And I could see she felt that I got her- for once!

This also means NOT saying:

You’re only saying that because you’re tired

It’s no big deal

Calm down.

It means saying things like:

You really wanted to go to her house today didn’t you? It’s so disappointing that her mummy was working and you couldn’t go.

That made you really sad.

You’re having a hard time.

I have another post with more details on how to validate their feelings here: http://talknua.com/a-soft-heart/

 

Strategy # 3 Stop talking and listen

Forget logic for the moment and definitely forget lecturing or sermonising.

So validate their feelings and then zip it! Really listen to the feelings within the words; not the literal words. Avoid the temptation to teach or explain. Don’t just do something, sit there!

 

Strategy # 4 Reflect back what you hear

This shows our child that we have heard them and it communicates comfort.  It feels so good to feel understood. This is different from acknowledging the feelings. Reflecting back would sound like:

I hear what you’re saying. You really hated it when I told you we had to leave the play date.

No wonder that made you made. I’d feel angry too.

It’s okay if you don’t get it totally right (No, I’m not cranky, I’m angry declared my little girl one day!) because this is a skill that takes a lot of practice to develop. And at least you are making the effort to understand them.

One last thing. While I really like this approach, you have to be in a good place yourself to be able to do it. So you need to look after your own needs too; making sure you have time for yourself. That you’re well fed and rested. It’s hard to do this if your own tank is empty. And go easy on yourself. It’s a long term project so just take baby steps and every bit helps!

So that’s the connection part. The next part of No Drama Discipline focuses on redirecting them towards better behaviour and that will be in my next post.

 

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends. Be sure to sign up to get the next post in your in-box.

Let’s get talking!

MP

 

 

January 12, 2017
by Mary Pat
0 comments

Three questions to ask yourself when your child misbehaves

Recently I had a very upsetting experience in one of those soft play places where another mother essentially said that I was a bad mother because I wasn’t keeping a constant hawk eye on my boisterous & sometimes bolshie 6 year old….

When I had recovered from the shock of feeling judged and reprimanded by a complete stranger in public, I did realise that lately, I have kind of taken my eye off the ball or gotten a bit lazy- issuing empty threats that I had no intention of following through on, using arbitrary rather than natural consequences to get the behaviour I desired, and expecting emotional maturity beyond her age…Hmmmm-does this make me a bad mother? It took me a while to realise the answers was ‘No’. It makes me a human mother trying to balance working full time and parenting consciously.

Of course I had a book in the pile that came to my rescue at the same time! It’s called No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson. And it is definitely a very different angle on discipline.

So they say (and I think it’s fair comment) that when we think of discipline, we tend to think of punishment and consequences, but the word actually means to teach or to lead. As in the person receiving the discipline is learning through instruction. According to Siegel and Bryson, ‘Punishment may shut down a behaviour in the short term, but teaching offers skills that last a lifetime.’

For sure, our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big challenging feelings and thinking about the impact of their behaviour on others.

The 2 primary goals of no drama discipline are:

#1 Short term:

To get our children to cooperate and do the right thing

# 2 Longer term goal

Coaching our children in ways that help them to develop skills and the ability to resiliently handle challenging situations, frustrations, and emotional storms that might make them lose control.

We want to help them develop self-control and a moral compass, so that even when authority figures aren’t around, they are thoughtful and conscientious. When we use the ‘If you don’t stop that now, there’s no X later’ approach, they’re smart enough to ‘behave’ when we’re there. But we’re not there all the time! So this approach is about helping children grow up to become kind and responsible people who can enjoy successful relationships & meaningful lives.

The essential message for children in their approach is:

No matter how ‘bad’ you are I am here for you and I will guide you through.

It’s about saying ‘No’ to the behaviour but ‘Yes’ to the child. It is a relationship-centred approach where the relationship is critical to guiding the child and helping them to make better decision and choices. It’s all about responding rather than just reacting or operating on auto-pilot. Intentional or conscious parenting basically. Which realistically, we can only do in fits and starts when trying out the approach. It’s not easy!

So in the next series of posts, I’m going to set out the elements of the approach for you, focusing in particular on the fine details of how to actually do it.

 The three questions

When your child misbehaves, they suggest you pause and ask yourself: Why, what, how? I think the pausing by itself is great- a few deep breaths and I’m less likely to snap or raise my voice.

 #1 Why did my child act this way?

The tone of the question is important. When we approach the question with curiosity we can often understand what they were trying to express or attempt something but simply didn’t handle it appropriately. If we understand this, we ourselves can respond more effectively & compassionately. You can ask yourself:

I wonder why she’s having a hard time right now? Why did she hit me? Is she hungry, angry, tired, wanting attention, lonely etc? (HALT)

 #2 What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?

The goal of discipline is not to give a consequence. We want to teach a lesson- whether it’s about self-control, the importance of sharing, acting responsibly, time management, being kind. It might be that hitting is not okay or that we don’t shout in the library. You want our child to learn that there are lots of appropriate ways of expressing big feelings.

What do I want to teach her right now?

#3 How best can I teach this lesson?

The No Drama Discipline approach is all about putting the relationship first. This doesn’t mean accepting unacceptable behaviour or being permissive. One of their catch phrases is Connect before you direct. So instead of giving unrelated consequences, instead, you pull your child close to you or at the very least, put your hand on their arm and let them know they have your full attention. The first time you do this, they’ll be surprised! Then you acknowledge their feelings and model for them how to communicate those feelings better. So what would that be like? What would you say? Something along these lines:

It’s hard to share. You really want to play with both of those toys by yourself. Is that right?

Now that your child knows they have your attention, you can talk and as they become calmer and able to listen, you can look them in the eye and explain that saying nasty things or hitting is never all right. Then you can talk about some alternatives like moving away, not saying anything if you can’t think of anything nice to say the next time you’re in the library. (If only I had remembered this yesterday at the library…..)

Another phrase they use in the book is teachable moments. So when your child is very upset, that is not the time to try and teach the lesson as their system is just overwhelmed physiologically. I had an incident recently with my daughter where we were getting ready for our night walk to see the stars etc and she would not put on her coat. So I said, we’re only going out with coats on. It was late in the day, she was tired and totally lost it and pushed me over on the ground and the natural consequence was no walk. This time I had just read the book so I was prepared! So I did the connecting- I said very little; just picked her up and held her as she sobbed her heart out and gradually she calmed down. Later that night when she was in bed, I asked her how she thought I might have felt when she pushed me over. This was the teachable moment and I could see her conscience playing out on her face; the little guilty look. That’s all your looking for according to Siegel and Bryson – a sign that the child understands the impact of their behaviour on others.

We also need to take into consideration their age and developmental stage and the context of situation to work out how we can most effectively communicate what we want to get across. There is no one-size-fits-all and we won’t get it right every time. But if we remember it, then it becomes another strategy to help us parent better.

Things to say include:

To the child: What could you do to make this right?

When you’re angry, where do you feel it in your body?

I wonder how Jemma felt when she heard what you said.

That’s a tough one. What do you think you should do to make things right?

No Drama Discipline encourages children to look inside themselves, consider the feelings of others, and make decisions that are often difficult even when they have an impulse or desire to do something else.

Another way to reframe misbehaviour is that misbehaviour is our child’s way of communicating to us what they need to be working on; things that have not been developed or specific skills they need practice at. At the moment, for my little girl, it’s sharing, giving way a little more, and recognising bids from other children as friendly invitations rather than threats that provoke defensiveness. Misbehaviour can also be an indication that the child is having a hard time dealing with what is going on around her and inside her- she needs help.

So that’s the 3 Questions- be sure and leave a comment below to let me know how you get on with them. And if you like this post, please pass it onto your friends.

The next post will be all about the Connect step of No Drama Discipline and how exactly to do it.

Let’s get talking!

MP

December 2, 2016
by Mary Pat
0 comments

6 things to do when you are about to lose your temper with your child

So the last few posts have been about attachments and helping our children deal with their feelings. Now it’s time to think about ourselves and our own feelings that parenting can trigger.

When the red mist descends… you know the feeling. You’ve been calm and understanding all day long; not rising to provocation and calmly navigating all sorts of disputes and complaints without raising your voice or rationalising. And then suddenly, you just can’t take any more; the irritation builds until you say something mean and then the guilt appears for snapping at your precious darling! We’ve all been there! Part of the issue is that we tend not to be authentic about how we are really feeling; we try to be ‘nice’ even though we may be fuming; then it just leaks out anyway later in unhelpful ways. So we might be better off being more honest about how we are feeling in the moment. The #1 thing to do is pause and breathe, resisting the temptation to react instead of respond- not always easy but I definitely feel better when I manage to remember this! Next up are 5 steps from the highly practical and effective How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk to help us deal with our own feelings as parents.

 

# 2 Describe what you see

So let’s say you notice something that needs to be done like your child’s toys tidied up or their coat picked up off the floor and hung up or crayons spilled over the floor. Instead of getting intense about it, try describing what you see in a light tone of voice. The Lego is all over the floor. Your coat is on the floor. The crayons have spilled out of the box. There’s a wet towel on the bed/floor. The light’s on in the bath room.  And my own personal bugbear: The door is open. (I just said that to my little girl as I was writing this and it’s like magic- she closed the door! So far it has worked every time and occasionally she’s even said ‘Oh sorry’ before closing it. And one day she even told my husband to close it!) It’s easier for children to concentrate on the problem & generate a solution when we just describe it neutrally to them.

  

# 3 Give information

Information is a lot easier to take in than accusation so you can try saying things like Apple cores belong in the bin. Walls are not for writing on. Paper is for writing on. Seats are not for feet. Again the tone of your voice is important so keep it neutral and low on drama when you can!

 

# 4 Say it with a word

Resist the temptation to lecture or sermonise with lengthy explanations-it just makes children tune out. Instead try one to two words like Eve, peas (I’m just doing this right now!). You can use more emphasis in your tone here and use your eyes too to communicate you mean business! Other examples are: Jamie, your lunch, your coat, the dog etc.

 

#5 Talk about your feelings

With this one, you talk about your own feelings without commenting on their personality or character. So for example I don’t like having my sleeve pulled, it bothers me when the door is left open, I don’t want to feel cold. For older children: I feel so frustrated when I start to say something and can’t finish or I object to being told ‘ I have to do’ anything. What I’d like to hear is ‘Dad, I’m ready to go. Can you take me please?’

 

#6 Write a note.

There are some lovely ideas in the book for this tip although it might take a little more effort to be creative and funny. One father wrote a note on the bathroom mirror: Help! Hairs in my drain give me a pain. Glug. Your stopped-up sink. Another mother taped this to the TV screen: Before you turn this on- THINK- Have I done my homework? Have I practiced the piano?  Another mother wrote a note on a paper plane and flew it into the room. The note said Toys away after play, love Mom.

 

You can combine #1 & #2 for example: That towel there is making my blanket wet. Wet towels belong in the bathroom. If that doesn’t work, you could increase the volume a bit with #3 Jill, the towel! Still nothing doing, then you can go a little louder with # 4 and Jill, I don’t want to have to sleep in a cold wet bed all night! Or I don’t like being ignored. I’m putting your wet towel away and now you have a resentful mother! Or if you don’t want to raise your voice, you could try a note: Wet towels on my bed make me see red! It’s all about matching the message to the mood!

 

Hope you find these ideas helpful! If you like the post, please pass it onto your friends.

Next time, I’ll be reporting on my No Drama Discipline experiences so be sure to watch your inbox!

 

Let’s get talking!

MP

 

 

November 10, 2016
by Mary Pat
0 comments

A soft heart

So the last condition needed for attachments to develop naturally and spontaneously is what Gordon Neufeld calls a soft heart.  What he means is that we must allow our children to feel all of their emotions in order to keep their heart soft. Emotion is the driver of development yet somewhere along the way, for many of us, emotions have been side-lined in favour of logic and reason. (You can read about the other 2 conditions needed for the development of healthy attachments here: http://talknua.com/sowing-the-seeds-of-love-or-three-ways-to-grow-your-plant/

 

As parents, we need to help our children learn to deal with their feelings. Not always easy! In general we can find it hard to allow feelings in our children that were not allowed in us as children. So for example, in my house, it was my mother who did anger. Sadness was allowed but not too much of it! And subsequently, I find it easy to accept sadness in my daughter but I struggle to allow anger or dissatisfaction. And as for lack of gratitude or appreciation- don’t get me started!

 

To get a bit of perspective on this here are some very useful questions that I came across recently when listening to a thought provoking interview with Tony Robbins. (You can watch the whole interview here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuFysBXxMUw )

These were the questions he asked:

  1. Whose love did you crave most as a child?
  2. What did you have to be for that person?
  3. What could you never be?

The answers are SO revealing and so useful in getting to know yourself as a person, what emotions were allowed in you and which ones weren’t allowed. They are also great questions to think about as a parent because the answers help you understand what you feel comfortable allowing in your child and maybe more importantly, what you struggle to allow.

Back to helping our children deal with their feelings. It’s easy enough to do when your own stuff isn’t being triggered so it’s probably easiest to start there! And it’s also helpful to know that there is a direct connection between how children are feeling and how they are behaving. (When you think about it we’re all pretty much like that only as adults of course, we have more control over how we behave- thankfully!!) The best thing we can do for them is acknowledge their feelings. The first chapter in my favourite parenting book is all about helping children with their feelings and I’m summarising that chapter here for you with my own twists on it. (The book is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and I love it- so practical and easy to read.)

First off, here’s what to avoid saying. Things like:  

You’re just saying that because you’re tired.

There’s no reason to be so upset.

Stop crying. 

Just cut it out…

When we repeatedly fail to acknowledge the emotion or allow our children to feel their emotions, it can escalate the intensity of the situation. But worse than that, it can teach them not to trust their feelings. And it can stop them from knowing what their feelings are. It can also teach them that as their parents , we know best about them and that they should rely on our perceptions as more accurate. Ultimately we are all emotional creatures 1st; not rational or logical. The parts of our brain that manage emotions are the oldest parts of the brain, logic and reason came later. Think of something you bought recently. Dresses by Carousel are my own personal weakness! So did reason enter into the picture before or after the purchase?! Usually what happens is we see the thing, we feel something like excitement or delight or anticipation. We buy it because of the feelings we believe it will give us and then after the fact we justify or rationalise it- I haven’t bought anything in ages, I deserve a treat, I gave away 2 bags of clothes last week etc.!

 

Another thing to try is to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to imagine what it feels like from their perspective. This might lead you to say things like:  I feel cold but for you it’s hot; or You feel tired even though you just woke up. (Watch your tone of voice here though!! You want to keep it neutral!) We are separate people having 2 sets of feelings; neither is right or wrong; we just feel what we feel. Mother does not always know best!

Here are 7 unhelpful responses. When you read through them, see if you can identify which ones you recognise!

#1 Denial of feelings

There’s no reason to be so upset. It’s foolish to feel that way. You’re probably just tired & blowing the whole thing out of proportion. It can’t be as bad as all that. Come on, give me a smile.

 # 2 The philosophical response

You can’t always get what you want. That’s life. Life’s not like that.

 #3 Unsolicited Advice (I particularly hate this one myself- It makes me feel like the person believes I’m not competent to work out a solution myself! )

You know what I think you should do……….

 #4 Questions

What did you do? How did that happen? Has this ever happened before? Why didn’t you……?

 # 5 Defence of the other person (Oh I do this one and have to really work hard not to do it!)

I can understand her reaction. Maybe she…….

 #6 Pity ( I hate being at the receiving end of this one too!)

Oh you poor thing! That’s terrible. I feel so sorry for you.

 #7 Amateur Psychoanalysis

Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you’re feeling like this is because of how you were parented yourself?

 The most helpful response is an empathic response that tries to genuinely tune into the feelings of the other person. So what would that look like? Something along these lines:

That sounds rough. To be subjected to an attack like that in front of other people, especially after being under so much pressure, must have been pretty hard to take.

 How does that feel? Calming, supportive?

To help with feelings, here’s what Faber and Mazlish recommend:

  1. Listen with full attention
  2. Acknowledge the child’s feelings with a word: Mhmm, Oh, I see. (Doesn’t have to be anything complicated or philosophical!)
  3. Give their feelings a name: that sounds frustrating!
  4. Give them their wishes in fantasy: I wish I could make that banana ripe for you right now. (This fantasy one really works! You might think ‘Oh no, let’s just move on from it’ but it works a treat and you can turn a stressful situation into a fun conversation with surprising ease.)

Giving your child’s feelings a name might be the hardest thing to do because it takes concentration and practice to go beyond what they’re saying so that you can identify what they might be feeling. But it is important to give them the vocabulary for their inner reality so that once they have the words for what they’re experiencing they can begin to help themselves. I remember feeling so delighted the day I overheard my little girl saying to her father in furious tones: I’m SO annoyed with you! She had learned to verbalise the feelings rather than lash out by kicking or hitting like she had in the past. Here are some other examples of what to say when you want to give your child a name for their feelings. Again it’s important that you say these kinds of things with genuine interest and sincerity- if they feel it, it’s real to them, just like it is to us!

That must have been embarrassing

Sounds as if that was embarrassing

Sounds as if it really hurts

That must be a big disappointment for you. You were really looking forward to it.

That bad huh?

Sounds like the kind of pain you’d like to wish on your worst enemy

It’s not easy to get these shots week after week. I bet you’ll be glad when they’re over.

Sounds as if you really resent all that homework!

Oh that must have been so frustrating!

As for the fantasy conversation, one day when my little girl was nearly 3 she was determined to fit into this pink fluffy jumper that was way too small. She started to get annoyed and then of her own accord said something like ‘I wish we had a big pink fluffy jumper the size of the room’! And then we had great fun thinking of the biggest jumper we could imagine. This works a treat too when you hear ‘I don’t want to go to school’. You can respond with a ‘Hmm’, wait a little and then say ‘What would you do if you didn’t go to school?’ and let your imagination take flight. You have nothing to lose because logic won’t make it better!

 And of course it’s the challenging feelings where they need our support most and the times when we have to work hard to overcome our tendency to use logic and reason to talk them out of how they are feeling. By acknowledging their feelings, you’re not saying you agree with them but by accepting the feelings, it allows the child to think constructively about the situation in question. And it’s never too early to start giving names for children’s feelings.

So the bottom line is all feelings are acceptable but not all behaviours. So you can say things like: I can see how angry you are with your brother. Tell him what you want with words not fists.

Okay, so what about when it’s you who’s feeling the challenging emotions? Frustrated over the mess left all over the sofa again so there’s nowhere for you to sit? (That’s me by the way!) Dirty fingerprints on your freshly painted wall? Hearing your name being called what feels like every 30 seconds when you have just sat down with a cup of tea? (Me again!) It’s no joke being a parent! In my next post I’m going to cover what you can do and say in these situations that honour your feelings in a diplomatic way!

If you like this post, please pass it onto your friends

Let’s get talking!

MP

 

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October 28, 2016
by Mary Pat
5 Comments

Sowing the seeds of love or three ways to grow your plant!

So, in the last post about attachment, you read all about how to deepen your connection with your children. You can read it again here: http://talknua.com/6-ways-to-love-them-even-more/

And if you prefer video, here’s a quick summary of the post https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opKK6SmHAAw 

So basically,  attachment is like a plant; multiple roots and what we see is the result of the rootedness of the plant. So, just like growing a plant, for attachment to proceed the conditions must be conducive to its growth. What does that look like though? Well, conditions must be warm and safe and the child’s heart must be soft. That means they must feel safe to feel all of their emotions. (Watch out for my next post all about children’s  emotions)

Children will spontaneously fall into attachment if conditions are conducive. According to Gordon Neufeld, there are 3 such conditions.

Three conditions for attachment to happen spontaneously

#1 is a good enough invitation: An invitation to what? To exist in someone’s presence. Children long for this; to see in your eyes an invitation for their own individual self to exist; an invitation that is not withdrawn because they have misbehaved. They need to see that there is room for them as their own person. The child is seeking the invitation to exist in someone’s eyes and the adult is the answer. Attachment is hierarchical and a child’s attachment is what enables & empowers an adult responsible for the child. Attachment facilitates dependence; it enables one to take care of another – the child is seeking something and the adult is the answer- not has the answer but IS the answer. We can’t become independent without first learning that it is safe to depend. Attachment provides the adult with the power to take charge of the child (be the captain of the ship), take care of them, and to act with natural authority. It’s not skill or knowledge; it’s about the relationship. The child’s attachments are what make them receptive to us.  Children must always feel the warm invitation to exist in the presence of their parents and other adults in their lives who care for them. How do we do this? Through the warmth in the tone of our voice and delight in our eyes when our gaze finds theirs. Showing our delight in seeing them at the end of the school or working day.  (You can read more about this in another post here: http://talknua.com/is-the-look-of-love-in-your-eyes/

 

# 2 is safety from disruption: What does this mean? It’s not that the child has to be with her parents the whole time. It’s more that they need to be with them until they can preserve closeness or attachment through sameness or until they can keep close via belonging and so on through the 6 stages of attachment. Children need to be able to hold their parents close when apart. So for example, when my little girl started school last year, we used to make origami hearts; one for her pocket and one for mine. So she could touch the heart during the day and preserve our closeness. Or I used to put notes in her lunchbox. Over the summer when she was going to sleep later and still asleep when I would leave for work, I would write her mystery notes that she had to decode and leave them where she would see them when she work up. Other ideas are giving your child something of yours to wear or mind for you even something as small as a pen. (You can read more about bridging separation here: http://talknua.com/bridging-the-gap/

#3 A soft enough heart

In Gordon Neufeld’s fascinating course on making sense of children, he states that emotion is the engine of development. Yes, you read it right! Emotion, not behaviour, not cognition, not consciousness, not intention, not even love, but emotion is at the heart of our children’s development. What developmental science has uncovered, he reports, is that our brain can only move us to mature when we feel our emotions, especially the most vulnerable ones. But it’s not easy to face life with a soft heart because we are easily wounded and people are not always nice! But in order for our potential to unfold we are meant to feel our wounds. We are feeling creatures. How do we help our children keep their little hearts soft? Watch out for my next post which will be all about helping children deal with their emotions.

So, attachment may be the most powerful force in the universe. What?!! Attachment is what makes our babies’ shit smell sweet! What?!! When my little girl has vomited on me, it never bothers me because of our attachment. But if a stranger was to vomit on me that would definitely bother me! Same with changing a poo-ey nappy- when it’s your own baby or a baby to whom you are attached- by and large- no problem. But when it’s someone that you don’t have an attachment with, it’s a different story! Attachment gives us the power to create a sense of home; to provide comfort, rest from the pursuit of proximity caused by fear of separation, and a place of retreat. A home is where the heart is. Children need to feel at home with those who are caring for them or teaching them.

Hope you enjoyed the post! If you did, please share it with your friends! And watch your inbox for the next post on children and emotions.

Let’s get talking!

MP

 

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September 28, 2016
by Mary Pat
0 comments

The great dummy debate….

So, pacifiers, soother, dummies, dodi, binky, whatever you call them! Love them, hate them, use them, or lose them? What’s the story?

Well, it’s kind of 50 Shades of Grey….. The jury is out and it remains a controversial topic. Let’s have look at what the research says.  (Most of the studies mentioned here are reported in an excellent book on children’s speech that I’m reading at the moment- see Sources at the end). So, first the good news! Using a soother has been associated with reduced SIDS (a study from 2014), a faster move to oral feeding in premature babies (a study from 2012) and less pain during painful procedures (a study from 1999).

 On the other hand, using a soother has also been associated with an increased risk of ear infections (a study from 2008), oral candida (a study from 2006), tummy bugs & diarrhoea (a study from 2015), & dental problems ( a study from 2014). The dental problems are things like an open bite where the teeth don’t meet when the child closes their teeth together. Here is what that looks like: Open bite . Chronic ear infections and dental problems can impact negatively on speech and language development.

Other research suggests it can lead to nipple confusion in new born babies and possibly reduced opportunities for breastfeeding. Although it turns out that not all research supports a definite link between soother use and reduced breastfeeding (studies from 2012 and 2015). See what I mean by 50 shades?

Finally, another study in 2012 reported on in this brilliant new book by Sharynne McLeod and Elise Baker looked at potential links between soother use and children’s emotional development.  School-aged boys who frequently used them at home during the day as a toddler had poorer facial mimicry. ‘So what?’ you might say. But this is an ability considered important in children’s emotional development. In this study, they also found that longer time periods of soother use predicted lower emotional intelligence in young adult males. (For any speech and language therapists reading, this new book is the only one you’ll ever need for working with children who have speech sound disorders- I’ve put the link below).

So what is a parent to do? Well 75-85% of Western children are reported to use one and they are thought to be potentially beneficial in the first 6 months of life according to a review of research from 2009. The problem is that if the child has the soother in their mouth for a lot of the time, then their opportunities for babbling, exploring their own ability to make sounds, and having great conversations are reduced. And it can be a bit of a slippery slope once they get in the habit, it’s harder to get rid of it.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to mindful use of the soother. What does that mean though? If it genuinely soothes a baby when it seems like nothing else does, then fair enough. That makes sense. Non-nutritive sucking as it’s called is a natural instinct in babies and it does soothe; it can help with falling asleep and with discomfort from teething. Babies and infants sucked their fingers long before soothers were ever heard of! The American Association of Family Physicians suggests not introducing the soother until the baby is 1 month old and has learned to breastfeed well. And then it’s a case of paying attention and making sure it’s not in their mouth habitually when they don’t need soothing. Are there other things that might soothe your baby like cuddles, distraction with a toy, baby massage, music, singing to them and so on? I would try really hard not to have it in their mouth while they are talking as this interferes with communication. And when to cut it out altogether? Well the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend weaning children from pacifiers in the second six months of life to prevent ear infections (2009 review of the research). One paper from dentistry  that I came across (although it’s from 2003) which surveyed the research suggests limiting use of the soother starting at age 2 and have it gone entirely before or at 4 years to limit potential negative effects on the child’s teeth.

So, I hope you found this post useful. If you liked it, please pass it onto your friends. Be sure and leave a comment below. What do you call them in your country? What has your experience with them been?

Let’s get talking!

MP

Sources:

Steven Adair (2003) Pacifier use in children: a review of recent literature. Paediatric Dentistry. 25:449-458.

McLeod & Baker, (2017) Children’s speech: An Evidence based approach to assessment and intervention. London: Pearson.

https://www.pearsonhighered.com/program/Mc-Leod-Children-s-Speech-An-Evidence-Based-Approach-to-Assessment-and-Intervention/PGM241416.html

Sexton & Natale (2009) Risks and benefits of pacifiers. American Family Physician 15; 79 (8): 681-685.