Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

Children are remarkably perceptive little creatures, and they are ever watching, ever listening, ever learning. Did you know that it is believed that children learn 90% of all the words they’re ever going to learn between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old? The theory is that they spend these months observing, often watching the mouths of others while they speak rather than focusing on their eyes. They learn the sound of the words, along with the motion the mouth makes while saying them, and gather up all this information for later. Only after gathering enough information about the way speech works do they actually attempt it themselves.

Many parents will tell you that you have to start watching what you say when you have kids, and this is definitely true. How often to you catch small children swearing, after all, because they recognize words that their parents say often? I don’t want to speak specifically about speech, however, because most people already realize that kids hear everything. What I want to point out is that kids see and feel everything as well.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter loves to do puzzles, which is awesome because it’s great for her brain, but she always wants myself or my husband to sit with her while she does her puzzles. She doesn’t necessarily want us to join in or anything, she just wants us to be there. So okay, that’s fine; I’ll usually sit with her and have my iPhone or my laptop with me and I’ll pluck away at something while she’s doing her puzzle. I’ll smile and nod and praise her at the appropriate intervals, while also multitasking on something else I have (or want) to do. This is what we were doing a few weeks ago, up in her bedroom. She was plucking away at her Tinkerbell puzzle, and I was praising her while browsing Twitter on my iPhone. What I failed to realize as this was occurring, was that I wasn’t really so much paying attention to her as I was smiling and nodding while focused intently on my phone’s screen. I didn’t notice what I was doing…but she sure did. Even though I was doing basically the same thing that I would have been doing had I not had the phone with me (smile, nod, say “Good job!”), she was fully aware that I wasn’t paying attention, and she didn’t like it. Before I knew what was happening, she stood up, took the phone right out of my hand, placed it on her bookshelf, and said, “There, that’s better!” before returning to her puzzle. I was shocked for a moment, but it didn’t take me long to burst into laughter. She really told me! She knew that I was only paying her lip service while I was glued to the Twittersphere, so she resolved the issue herself.

Kids notice these things. They are a lot more in tune to what is going on around them than adults give them credit for. They know when you’re patronizing them, they can tell when you’re flat-out lying to them, they notice when you’re genuinely upset, they see things that you don’t even realize you’re doing. Think of all the times a child has spouted off a surprising phrase that you didn’t notice you said all the time, or the times a child has followed you around, copying mannerisms you never noticed you even had. If you don’t have kids of your own, think back to when you were a kid. Couldn’t you tell if your mother was sad about something, or your dad had suffered a bad day at work? Didn’t you try to copy the way your mother applied lipstick, or the way your father shaved? And don’t even try to tell me that you can’t think of at least one instance of a parent or a loved one bursting into laughter or getting embarrassed because of something you said, and you didn’t understand what the big deal was because you were just repeating something they had said.

"Don't worry, ma, I've been paying attention and I've totally got this."
“Don’t worry, ma, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve totally got this.”

It’s an important thing to remember when dealing with children, although we tend to forget it more often than not. Remember that this little creature is watching you, seeing everything you do, hearing everything you say, picking up on your emotions and moods, and learning. Most of all, learning. Everything you do or say, everything you present to them in everyday life, is a lesson. What are you going to teach your children today?

3 thoughts on “Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

  1. Kind of surprising that my daughter would know nearly 90% of the words she’ll ever use. She’s almost 18 months now. She uses around 4 words regularly, and that’s it. But at 17 months, she is very perceptive. She watches us a lot. She copies our behaviour all the time. She pretends to use a phone, she can already start up an iPod Touch, unlock it and start her favourite game. She learned how to wash her hands at her nursery (this one surprised me tonight when playing with a toy that has simulated running water. She did the motions for washing her hands). But it’s very easy to read her emotions. She gets angry if she doesn’t get what she wants, and that’s pretty much everything. She always wants to use my computer. If I’m working on it, she tries to stand in front of me and take control. If I move her out of the way, she gets angry. Can’t wait for that phase to end.

    • The 90% of words thing is still partially a theory, I believe, but it’s based on several studies that show that kids of a particular age (6 to 12 months, I believe) tend to stare at people’s mouths rather than their eyes, even though by 4-5 months they’ve usually discovered the eyes and understand that they’re the focal point of the face. It’s really quite interesting. 🙂

      I hate to break it to you, but that phase you’re talking about? It doesn’t end any time soon. lol It will probably get better, but my little munchkin is 2-1/2 now and she’s still pretty bad for getting mad and cranky when she doesn’t get her way. A big thing is supper…she never wants to eat it, regardless of what it is or how long it’s been since she last ate. And she pitches FITS when we tell her she can’t have any treats or anything unless she eats her supper. 😐

      Fun times!

      • I’m not expecting my daughter to hit me if I don’t let her bang toys on a glass table when she’s 6 years old 🙂

        Supper is something my daughter usually loves to eat, though lately, she’s been more interested in playing while eating. I want her to stop doing that, but she sits there with a mouth full of food while pretending to chew it. It makes mealtime very, very slow.

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