Mom Says: “He Repeats After Me, But Not The TV”

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Naima Shirdon

How much more powerful is it when you’re able to get a parent to illustrate an important point, as opposed to simply telling them? I was speaking to a Somali mother when she mentioned something of note about her two-year old son.

Whenever I talk with him, he’ll repeat everything I say. When he’s watching the TV, he never repeats anything.

Her insight was gold.

What did it illustrate? A few things:

•What children gain from conversations with us is invaluable and incomparable to what they will gain from TV

•Watching TV does not give rise to interaction in the same way that talking with others do

•Parents are their child’s best teacher; the learning you gain from social interactions in real time increases bonding between parent and child and makes learning fun

I engaged the Somali mom in a conversation about the richness of social interaction and how it helps children develop language. Repetition is a powerful mechanism that young children use in language acquisition; through imitating the language of adults, they learn new words and more importantly, retain them through repetition. Eventually, they move on from mere repetition to being able to present novel ideas. No doubt this repetition phase that children go through can drive parents crazy, but it is a natural part of their development. Whether it’s manifested in their child sounding like a broken record or their child wanting to hear the same stories over and over again (I’ve even had parents tell me they sometimes end up hiding a favorite book so they don’t have to read it for the hundredth time!), it’s part and parcel of growing up and helps the child make meaningful connections.

Ultimately, I was able to have an engaging conversation with the mom about the importance of her son’s repetition and juxtapose this with the lack of that very action while he was watching television – a prime example that she herself provided. An example which goes to the heart of why social interaction is so central to language development, and why its significance outweighs the TV or other media. By using direct examples that the parent herself offered, the conversation became more salient and personal. The conversation, then, wasn’t just about language acquisition and TV watching, but it was about those topics as it related to her son. Parents often think that they need fancy learning toys to help their children learn, but the best gift you can give your child is your time and attention. That warm, social interaction will provide what gadgets cannot, for the simple fact that when your child speaks, you can answer back.

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