Friday, 28 December 2012

Talking in soft voices

My wife has a cold and her sneezing scares the child. Yesterday she erupted whilst he was sat on her knee and the poor mite was terrified; it wasn’t just a plaintive little whimper it was the clarion scream that signifies true fear... and she got that reaction by sneezing whereas I only manage it when he squirms his soapy little self from my grasp in the bath and finds himself holding his breath and looking up at me through the bubbles... (he’s far too bright to open his mouth under water, he just lets me know that he’s not happy once he’s been fished out!)

Not only that, but when my wife did scare him, I managed to reduce him to giggles again with my usual mix of animal noises and over-the-head baby acrobatics. She thinks that it is unfair that whilst I can pitch my voice at “werewolf growl” or deliver a chest-thumping Tarzan ululation to giggles and smiles, a simple sneeze from her delivers panicked tears.

I feel that this is another one of those areas where many parenting books get it wrong by trying to do too much of a good thing... they often teach that you shouldn’t startle a child or talk in harsh tones around the child; that hushed, gentle tones should always be used.

My own thoughts contradict this for many reasons: the fact of the matter is that your emotional and endocrine based responses are there to keep you alive and well and protect against social and macro-scale (i.e. something your size or slightly larger) threats that want to do you harm, and in many ways they are analogous to the immune system. Now, whilst some restraint is to be encouraged (i.e. don’t torture your kids [as an aside all the cases of children being water-boarded seem to come from the USA!) wrapping them in verbal cotton wool is likely to produce analogous results to fearfully rationing peanuts whereby low exposure leads to sensitization and death! Similarly, experience of growls, sarcasm and even vastly over-dramatised threats at a young age is likely to lead to the kind of young adult who grins knowingly and thinks their way out of a conflict situation or mugging in later life (if a child has never heard a sarcastically raised voice, they’re likely to be the fetal-position chalk outline with extra groin based damp patches!)

This is something that the wife and I agree to differ on. I feel his exposure to both approaches is advantageous in the long term, and it is interesting that when he’s feeling down both her dulcet tones and my growls have the same calming effect; maybe it’s not so much what you say, or how it’s said, but that you’re there, caring enough to interject.


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