Oral language is the foundation for learning. Language skills are the main medium through which learning takes place. Often the impulse for us, as critical thinking adults is to teach young children through explanations, coercion, punitive measures and other intellectual methods of language. If you begin to shift into a quiet/listening approach of instruction and guidance with your young ones you may see a positive change in their play and behavior. A non-reactive response coupled with movement can be very helpful in the early years.
The Language of Discipline
An effective way to correct and model the behavior you are seeking with a young child is through example in movement. Children find it almost impossible to resist movement because imitation is such an innate part of their nature. You may like to try this out when sitting at the dinner table and wanting your little one to finish their meal before leaving: you could say with the utmost conviction, "we stay seated until we have finished our meal", while you happily continue to eat your dinner with joy. If at some point throughout your day it is time to clean up and move onto the next thing you might want to say "it's time to put our toys away", or you may even begin to sing a song that signals clean up as you clean and tidy the toys away yourself and hand a block or book to your child to put away. Leading through example-action along with positive speech can have marvelous results and many of your disciplinary challenges will fall away. If you begin to reason with and fall into intellectual conversation, your child will imitate just that and you might find yourself with a 5 year old who can talk you into doing anything. After all, in the early years, to discipline a child is to lead by example.
It is also important to remember that children learn best through positive reinforcement rather than commands. For example, you might say, "we always hold hands in a parking lot" when your child is beginning to get a bit frisky when there are cars around. You use the positive language instead of commanding the words "stop running!!", which may lead you to a loss of temper. I am sure all of us can recall a disciplinary opportunity where it would have been helpful to use positive words coupled with healthy actions. Perhaps next time you'll give it a go?
Learning Through Imitation
The imitative nature of the young child beginning at birth and following through to age seven is so obvious and all-consuming yet sometimes we are unaware of its significance for parenting. Your child learns everything through imitation-sleeping, eating, walking, talking, dressing, tying shoes, movement, toilet training and on and on. You may have noticed seeing your actions coming through in your children's play (the good and the bad). This is imitation too, children learn their gestures and expression in this way.
Through imitation, simple speech and naming develop into full sentences and talking, so that the 2-3 year old usually has a good grasp on his or her language. "Language is the mold out of which thinking develops", says Rahima Baldwin. By the age of three, the child has developed place memory and is beginning to develop concept and time memory. But it is good to remember that the child at this early age is not yet able to form pictures or to call up memories at will without sensory reminders. This ability does not develop until around the age of six. You can read more about this in Rahima's book titled 'You Are Your Child's First Teacher'.
In order for a child to develop their thinking-memory and a sense of self (ego or "I" consciousness) they must first understand that they are separate from the world around them. They are no longer one with the world; instead they move into being an individual "me" or "I". Most of us as parents have experienced or are currently experiencing this shift in our children. They start to talk about themselves and use there own name in their speech for example, "Mirabai do" or my personal favorite "that's mine". At this time, the child is a completely willful being and we as parents notice another "doer " in the household who may sometimes oppose our own will with his or hers. This can be challenging and therefor has been labeled "the terrible twos". Rudolph Steiner states that the child at age 2-3 still has no moral sense of what's right or what's wrong (developmentally this does not arise until the child is 5.) I think this is worth pondering. If we are able to recognize that the "defiance" we may be observing is truly the first awakenings of our children becoming conscious of themselves (becoming self-aware), then we can stay calm and welcome this "willfulness" as a necessary stage of development. A wonderful way to allow the child to experience "doing" and their emerging sense of self is through imaginative play. Fantasy play makes its first appearance around the age of three making the child a master of play. In play, we see the child imitate the world around them in an ever-changing process.
Take time, be quiet and listen to your young one.....
You may find that leaving a child in peace until there is a natural break in their play or until they come to you with a question, can lead to a longer and more constructive playtime. We as adults are often interrupting children to 'teach' them about the world surrounding us. As the Indian yogi Sadhguru says, "when you meet a child you should not see yourself as a teacher but as a learner".
If we begin to listen deeply within ourselves we can start to understand that each object in a child's world has a voice of its own. We cannot be certain what the young child experiences when she contemplates an object. The secret life of objects is magical and enchanting for young children and we as adults with our intellect have no place in that world. It is best to leave the objects to speak for themselves. With the toddler for instance it seems best not to speak about things, but to let the things speak for themselves whenever possible.
For the young child the world is alive and therefore everything does speak. The time to be able to distinguish reality from imagination lies in the future and will come naturally. The young child experiences the world through movement and pictures. As David Elkind mentions in his book 'The Hurried Child', "If the personification of objects is done in a natural and responsible manner it can strengthen an inward listening of the child". Through encouraging the gift of inward listening, your child will develop a deep inner strength to build resilience in the future. That's a gift we all can use!