Transcript: Ways to Support Infant Development Using Effective Communication Skills
This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Ways to Support Infant Development Using Effective Communication Skills and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.
Helen Thompson: I’ve always find when communicating with your little one and navigating through those ups and downs of parenthood, that trying to think like they do is a big help. Yes, of course it’s easier said than done! Applying a good dose of empathy and thinking like they do often goes a long way and helps a lot and yes, it can be hard, but it’s worth it.
In this week’s episode of First Time Mum’s Chat, I’m talking with author, special educator and behavior therapist, Chris Lake. Chris had his first child during the Covid Pandemic and his interactions led him to write his book, Help Your Toddler Meet Their Milestones 101 Behavior Hacks.
During our discussion you’ll hear Chris talk about his book and how it helps parents learn how to help their child communicate, speak, and much more. I’m sure you’ll find Chris’s insights as fascinating as I did. He has a very strong insight on what makes our children tick and how as parents, you can make the most of your interactions and build an excellent bond.
Now onto the interview.
Hi Chris and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m delighted to have you here and I’m looking forward to hearing all about your book.
Chris Lake: Thank you so much Helen. I’m very happy to be here with First Time Mum’s Chat. As you said, yes, I just released my book, Help Your Toddler Meet Their Milestones: 101 Behavior Hacks. I am a special educator and behavior therapist by trade, have been for the last 16 years and 2 years ago at the height of the pandemic I had my first child and this changed my perspective so-so very much as you can imagine and watching her develop my behavior therapist, special educator brain kept analyzing what I was seeing my child do in real time and what I do for my professional living and it made me realize I have the ability to share information with the greater audience, specifically, what things someone can say, the specific things people can do that will help their child develop a little faster if they’re neurotypical or typical, whatever language people prefer to use. This will help your child develop faster if your child has any delays, this will help them catch up because it’s evidence-based of applied behavior and it’s simple language that I use in my book to help any parent, with a new child learn how to help their kid communicate, speak, overcome eating, overcome tantrums, develop social skills et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and I’m excited to share everything about it.
Helen Thompson: I know some mums find the terrible twos really hard and the terrible twos can be quite a challenge but to me, it’s a positive approach, it’s how you approach it. They aren’t always that terrible. Would you agree with that?
Chris Lake: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. They’re not that terrible. It’s part the persistence that we’re not prepared for and also children force our hand to develop our communication skills in ways that we thought we were done. You know, I think before you have a kid, you assume I’m done with how I need to communicate to people. I know how to make small talk if I’m at work or if I’m at a party and I don’t know anyone. I know how to have a deep conversation with good friends and I know how to X, Y, and Z, but a child says, no, I need you to communicate with me when I’m being completely irrational and you have no understanding of why I’m being completely irrational and it makes us scratch our head and say, well, this is just terrible. I shouldn’t have to be working this hard, I shouldn’t have to explain myself so many times and it’s a beautiful process when you get a chance to step back and really look at it, from a bird’s eye view, it is a beautiful process of development on our own person as well as a child and I think sometimes parents lose the sense of what’s happening to me as my child is developing because as your child’s developing, you are developing as a parent and I expressed that point in my book. I called the Discipline of parenting. Cause it’s a practice, it is something that the more you see yourself as a white belt becoming a yellow belt, becoming a black belt, as a parent you start to realize, oh, there’s certain skill sets that I possess and the better and sharper I make these skill sets, the easier this whole process is, not to say perfect, right?
There is no perfect. I tell people find me a perfect tree. But it can be less painful. It can be easier to get through. And as I tell my staff when they sometimes miss the forest for the trees, I say pay attention to the trends. Don’t just look for the final product don’t just look for this student go from they’re not sitting properly or they’re not talking to, they’re a perfect, ideal student who’s gonna get a scholarship to Harvard. Pay attention to when they are making efforts, pay attention when they’re independently making efforts, pay attention when each day that you have with them is a little bit easier and give that child credit because they’re aware of what they’re trying to do and they’re also aware of whether or not they’re getting any credit for it. The more credit they get for making efforts, the faster they make progress.
Helen Thompson: I think it’s accepting them for where they’re at as well. As an adult, we always think, we know how to disengage from somebody if we don’t want to communicate with them. We understand that but a child may not totally understand that. A child may be just saying, well, hang on a moment just leave me be for a moment, I want some space but they don’t know how to communicate those skills. They don’t know how to say that and I think from your side, a child development person that’s probably common sense, but to a parent, that may not be common sense.
Chris Lake: A hundred percent. 100% and also to a parent for the most part we’re tired. So, we don’t always have the bandwidth to have the excessive empathy that’s required to get a child from where they are to where they need. But as you said, Helen perfectly stated, we need to meet them where they are and literally sometimes that means to get down at their eye level.
I can’t stress how valuable this is to a child. Literally get yourself down on your knees, look them in the eyes so that they’re the same level, and communicate with them. If they’re having a hard time and you do this, it’s so much easier to bring them down than if you’re cowering over them saying, calm down, relax, and you’re adding heat to this fire. They’re developing, their brains are developing and they don’t have a full pre-frontal cortex until they’re 25. So, you know, their ability to make executive functioning decisions and judgments about how my behavior right now will affect me next week, next month, next decade doesn’t exist yet.
Their ability to ask themselves how this affects other people doesn’t exist. They’re working very much in the moment. is my need met, yes or no and if my need is not met, what has worked in the past to get my needs met? And I stress this with parents a lot when they think about the terrible twos, because this is a transition period for kids, and that transition from infancy to toddlerhood is not easy transitioning for the child, right?
Obviously it’s not difficult for parents, but when you think about it from the perspective of the child, for about the first 12 months of their life, they get a free ride, right and they understand that if I want something, if I have a need that I register, what I need to do is cry. So I have a need, I cry, and then I get X need met and it makes perfect sense. From the day they’re born until they’re about like 11 months, 12 months, until they start walking and then once they start walking, we’re like, oh, that’s great, you’re walking, let’s do this, let’s do that, okay, you can’t walk here.
So they start running people even though they can’t run. But between 15 months, 18 months, typically they start getting a little bit of rules dished at them, and the situation starts to shift from, I cry to get what I want to, I must perform in order to get what I want and they don’t know all the regulations and performance that are required as yet.
They require us to explicitly explain some parents don’t realize that kids won’t just have the common sense zapped into their brain one day and that they’ll just figure out how it is to be human. You literally have to tell your child everything that is expected of them, in every single circumstance or be sure that someone else is gonna take that role. Otherwise, you can’t be upset the child doesn’t understand, right? You never told them that you can’t shout at a funeral, you never told them that you shouldn’t run at a pool and obviously life circumstances will be present in certain things.
If they touch a hot plate, if they touch a hot stove, they will learn very quickly this is bad, but it’s our job to give those rules, they are understanding or I just had a cry and I got whatever I want. I got milk, I got formula, you guys opened the window, it was cold, you guys put the blanket over me, that was how it was my entire life. That’s a child’s perspective and now you’re saying, I need to perform, I don’t like this, no! Let’s stick with how things were and so the child is gonna, from our vantage point, fight, right, or manipulate, which they’re not, disclaimer. They’re just doing what had worked and what, for their point of view was easier.
It’s our job to help make that transition, that transformation rewarding by intentionally rewarding the behaviors we wanna see by intentionally making it fun to learn, by making it fun, to make progress. By making the energy we give the child bigger for the good things, and very dull and plane and neutral for the bad things.
It’s not that you don’t address the bad things, but if the only times that you raise your voice to your child are when you’re displeased with them, that’s very stimulating and they’re not calibrating that as this is bad, mom’s upset, mom’s angry. They’re calibrating ooh, I heard my name and mom said it and I love hearing mom say my name. I need to do that again, that was stimulating, I like that. So, as I said before, it’s tricky because we have to be really, truly aware of how we are interacting. What am I doing as a parent? Cause your child is purely responsive, purely reactionary, and it’s not intentional, it’s not to cast blame on anyone. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this podcast and feel guilty. I want people to walk away and feel aware and say, huh, that’s something for me to think about because once you have a broader sense of what accountability is available to you, then you literally have more power, you have more power in that situation, that’s what I want people to walk away with, knowing, oh, this is my power. If I respond to my kid with heat, I’m gonna get heat. If I respond to my child with calm, I’m gonna get calm. You have that power.
Helen Thompson: You mentioned earlier about the stove and the swimming pool and things like that. I think a lot of the time it’s trial and error, and obviously I’m not saying that you allow your child to jump in the pool and drown, of course, I’m not saying that..
Chris Lake: Correct.
Helen Thompson: But allowing them the space to try. If you are there and you say, I’m here, jump in, see what happens. Giving them the opportunity to try things without the ‘shoulds’ and oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that but obviously within reason. I’m not saying you tell a child to put their hand on a hot stove, but you give them the opportunity to try it, you give them the opportunity to experiment for themselves. Cuz that’s what the Montessori approach is all about.
Chris Lake: And it’s a beautiful approach and as you said, if, God forbid, they touch a hot stove and they burn themselves, just like you said, and I think a lot of parents would almost feel guilty about it, but this extraordinary value in what you just said. It’s actually so valuable in the moments that they hurt themselves to deliver the explanation. If a child is running around the pool and say, hey sweetheart, we gotta use our walking feet, it’s not safe to run and they look at you and register and they smile that naughty smile and they run and they slip and nothing hospital worthy, but they fall and cry, say sweetie. I wanted you to use your walking feet cause it’s safe. If you don’t use your walking feet this is what can happen and that’s how kids learn. When you explain in the moment, that’s when oh, mama’s trying to look out for me, I didn’t understand. Okay, next time she gives me a warning, that has more weight. I’m gonna do better at listening because she was trying to protect me. Obviously, my rule of thumb, is rule number one is be kind. So don’t say it with nasty energy or snarky.
They don’t need sarcasm, they don’t get sarcasm. It is valuable to explain. Kids need explanation and in those moments, give the child the opportunity to understand. This is why we have rules, sweetheart, this is why we do good listening. This is why mommy needs you, this is why daddy needs you to do good listening.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, how old is your daughter?
Chris Lake: She’s almost two and a half. She turned 28 months last week and she’s so much fun. I have so much fun with her and my wife and I agreed that we would raise her screen free which makes so much more time to connect. It’s funny, we agreed that we’d have her screen free up until she was two years old and so for the last two and a half, three years, we haven’t watched any TV. Now we’ll say, okay, let’s try to watch cartoons and sit down with her and within a minute or two she’ll like, turn it off I don’t wanna watch this.
Helen Thompson: That’s interesting.
Chris Lake: Isn’t it. If she watches anything, she’ll just wanna watch aquarium videos that play soothing music, or she’ll wanna watch some sort of nature video on my phone. Like, oh, show me frogs, show me a hawk, show me dolphin swimming, something in nature, just being in nature. But she has zero interest in cartoons and movies, playing on our phone and she’ll give our phones back to us if we put it down.
But you know, she’s really good with rules. We started laying down rules with my daughter when she was only 10 months old cause we live in a one bedroom apartment in Queens. So you open the front door and then there’s a kitchen and then you have a living room. There’s a hallway to the bathroom and I’m very big on environmental toxins outside of this work. So I was always very particular about making sure she’s nowhere near our shoes. I don’t want her to be anywhere near our shoes in case we track in whatever yuck from outside.
You can set boundaries with your kids as early as they’re able to respond and the parents that I work with and talk with, I always ask them, so at home, what are your rules? What rules do you have for your child and we have this dumbfound expression on their face.
Helen Thompson: Yes, I can imagine.
Chris Lake: And it’s not just that they never set any rules, it’s the first time the thought has entered, I can set or I shouldn’t be setting rules. I don’t believe in should, but you can set rules and it’s not to make your child some obedient slave but it is to a) make your child accountable, it’s to b) help them get a leg up in life, because in life there are rules and it’s not the wisest strategy to say, well, I want my child to have whatever they want in their home so that they have a happy childhood.
While that may seem idyllic, it’s going to create a very hard hit when the child leaves the household and is not well equipped for all the rules and consequences and third it also helps you establish a parent has authority. It’s your job as a parent to guide your kid out. It is your job as a parent to protect and provide, nurture your child, it’s also your job to be an authority in the household. A lot of parents today say they want to be friends with their kids and it’s good to be playful with your children, be able to play and have a beautiful relationship, but you are actually the authority, you’re supposed to be your child’s guidance. This is what you can do and this is what you should not do. This is something that’s not wise to do. We have a number of different rules, cleaning up, things involving eating like you can’t remove anything from your plate and it’s all reasonable and it’s all things that she able to do based on your ability to set rules for them.
Helen Thompson: But I think you can make rules but make it playful cuz that’s what I used to do in childcare. Play with your kids and let them have a lovely childhood, but do it in a playful way and as you said, I don’t like ‘should’ and ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ because from my understanding, please correct me if I’m wrong here, a kid will hear the last two words that you say, so if you say don’t do that, they will hear, do that, they won’t hear the word, don’t, they’ll hear, do that. So it’s a way of doing it in a positive way and saying, okay, well let’s do this together, let’s find out a way we can do this together. I think what you did is a great idea, but maybe let’s try it this way. Don’t say it might work better, but just shift the energy a little bit so that you are not using the word should and don’t, and that’s very hard. I acknowledge I do it occasionally and I am not perfect. We all do it.
Chris Lake: And you know, it comes down to practice, right? In my book I offer parents affirmative alternatives to don’ts, hey stops and no because it’s natural for us to say don’t do this, don’t eat things off the floor, don’t run, don’t bite, don’t push, et cetera. The issue is when we do this, as you said, they’re only hearing the last two words.
For example, if I told someone to not think of a green cat wearing a party hat riding a tricycle, you already have the image, despite the fact, my first word was don’t. The same with children and when you tell a child what not to do, you are not telling the child what to do and that creates a vacuum and that creates some confusion.
So, and I say it comes down to practice . I had to practice it myself. My goal is to help other people have this information and share with other people so that they can also share with other people. But you know, instead of telling the child don’t climb on the couch, you let know we’re at home, the place to climb is at the park. We’re going to the park on Saturday and be, oh, you don’t like your food, you spit out your food, we don’t spit. The only time you spit is when you are brushing your teeth. Tell a child where that behavior that they wanna do is acceptable and let ’em know what is expected in this scenario. Let ’em know of the reason as well. Sometimes it’s very valuable for children to understand why? Why do I have to go to bed at 8pm, why can’t I eat food off the floor, it still tastes good? That cookie tastes just as good on the floor as it did on my plate, what’s the problem? They don’t understand, right? But if you can in simple language, say if you eat things off the floor, something that’s dirty, they can make you sick. Remember when you were sick, you didn’t feel very good, right? Mommy doesn’t want you to be sick and that’s gonna register better than, don’t do that, stop that gimme that.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, definitely. I think it all boils down to communication and being considerate and being caring and kind as you mentioned before, and communicating in a simple way as well and it’s not always easy. We all make mistakes .
Chris Lake: It’s not easy, and it’s not a one-off. That’s the other thing, I think some people they want the fat burner pill when it comes to working with kids. Just take this after holiday, now lose 15 pounds. You have to keep at it. It’s consistency. You’re gonna tell a child a rule and you’re gonna tell a child a rule again and what will happen is you recognize that I have to continue to lay down this rule is that you’ll start to be able to anticipate preemptively so if you notice your kid really likes to run around after you come back from the park, when you come home say remember sweetie now that we’re back from the park, running time is over. we’re using our walking feet in the house. We’re going to take off our shoes, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna have snacks, and then we’re gonna do this and that’s gonna be very helpful for the child. Kids love getting a layout of their schedule because they don’t have much patience, and we don’t really appreciate that for kids.
I can’t tell you how often I hear a staff say, oh, why are you so sad, what do you have to cry about? And first of all I remind them, well, understand they have autism. That’s part of why they’re not very happy in this moment. Two, having bills is not the end all be all for happiness or not being happy.
These kids can’t leave the room if they want to, they can’t go outside for a breath of fresh air, they can’t pick with who they’re gonna eat, they can’t pick what clothes they’re gonna wear. That’s insane. If that was us we’d be in prison and we look at them like, why are you stressed out? They’re stressed out cause they have no power over their life and they know it and so sometimes the only power they have is what we would look at as driving us crazy. No, they’re just being free in the moment by running around and climbing or doing something but again, they’re not manipulating us. They’re purely doing what has given them some feedback that they like or some response that they like, and it’s simply based on what has been rewarding and reinforced in the past so we need to be consistent, it’s really the key and reward when we see them doing the behavior we want, we wanna praise the trends because we are going to repeat ourselves and then when we see them almost engaging the behavior, but catch themselves, that’s, so valuable, hey, I saw that thank you for controlling yourself, thank you for being a good listener. You wanna tell your child every single day, you wanna find an excuse every single day to tell your child, thank you for being a good listener, thank you for doing good listening. Make that part of your regular vocabulary you’re saying to your kid because what you praise your child for, they wanna be more of, and you just need to praise good behavior and that’s what’s really gonna grow. If they’re not creating good behavior and we’re only getting loud, or demonstrative, or saying their name over and over and over again when they’re doing behavior you don’t like, that’s what’s gonna grow. Focus wherever the attention goes, that’s gonna grow, so be mindful.
Helen Thompson: And thanking them. I’m mentioning this for a reason because I’ve worked with autistic kids before and I remember an incident where this child was playing up and I was picking them up from school and they were playing up and the teacher supported me, but we had to walk home and he was doing his thing and I just let him do his thing and after about 15, 20 minutes of him being at home, he’d sort of calmed down. I just let him do what he needed to do to calm down and he actually said to me, Helen, I’m really sorry for my bad behavior and I looked at him and I said to him, you don’t have to apologize to me for your bad behavior, but I really appreciate the fact that you are apologizing because it wasn’t your behavior that was a problem.
He was apologizing to me, but I also realized that he didn’t need to apologize cuz it was just the way he was and that’s the point I wanted to say is that it’s respecting the child too. Respecting your child for where they’re at. I just knew that space that he was in at the particular time, And yes it was a bit of a pain because it took 20 minutes more to get home than it normally would’ve done but that wasn’t the point. The point was that we did get home and he did defuse, he did work it out. He worked it out by himself because I let him do it. I knew what he was going through , he’d had a rough day at school, he just needed to calm down and I just let him do that and we just had a hug and we had some afternoon tea and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
It made me think about what we’ve just been saying.
Chris Lake: At the end, respecting the child where they are. Remember that they’re a person, ultimately they’re a person. Although they’re young and they’re learning and they don’t have the language skills, they feel and they respond and they’re aware what’s happening. They pick up on tone, pick up on body language and you know, it’s worth us remembering be kind.
Helen Thompson: And you’re teaching them that kindness as well. If you are gentle and as I said, it’s not easy at times, but you’ve just gotta take a big deep breath and just go, okay, I know this is where you’re at right now, but let’s just keep going and we’ll work it out. So if anybody wants to get in touch with you and to find out more about your book, how can they go about doing that?
Chris Lake: It’s available on Amazon. You can go to 101BehaviorHacks.com and you’ll see links to my paperback as well as ebook and there’s a contact form, reach out there if you have questions, if you’re struggling, if you’re curious about red flags, about delays, if you want a little bit of advice, I have consultations as well, 15 minute consultations that are available right now. I want people to have the confidence to know that you can use techniques, phrases, physical intervention, physical ways to interact with your kids that’ll make a big difference so long as you’re consistent and obviously do with kindness but consistency is key. You don’t have to suffer through the terrible twos. I’d rather them be the transformational twos.
Helen Thompson: I like that. I’m not gonna say the terrible twos don’t exist because I think I’m going into danger there, but I do believe from what we’ve said, that there are ways, as you say, thinking of it as a ‘transformational twos’.
Well, thank you Chris.
I do hope that you’ve got some good takeaways from my discussion with Chris. I highly recommend checking his Help Your Toddler Meet Their Milestones 101 Behavior Hacks book, and I’ve included links in the show notes, which can be accessed at MyBabyMassage.net/podcast/103.
Next week, I’m chatting with April Duffy, who runs the very busy Cloth Diapers For Beginners Facebook group, totally dedicated to the topic of cloth diapers, or nappies for those of you located outside of North America. You’ll hear April and I discuss some questions when it comes to this topic.