Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Talking Pictorially

I recently listened to a talk by Donna Simmons of Christopherus called "Talking Pictorially and Living Actively with your Young Child".  I think this is the best $14 I've spent in my six years of parenting!

I have read SO MANY (AP/Unconditional) parenting books and I truly feel that this is the piece I've been missing.  For years, I've been hearing, "Talk Less" and I try.  I really do.  But what to replace the talk with - that's the key.  It certainly helps to simply talk less with young kids, but even more than that, it helps to TALK PICTORIALLY!!!! 

Kids up to the age of about seven do not think the same way we think.  A lot of people think this is simply a Steiner belief that may or may not be true.  I recently listened to a talk by Dr. Bruce Lipton in which he explains that EEG levels of kids up to the age of six show that kids in this age range are essentially in a hypnotic state!  An article about this is available here.

So, what to do.

Stop Talking - and Talk Pictorially!

What does that really mean?  It means that we need to meet kids where they are.  They are very visual beings.  Instead of telling your child that he needs to get dressed or he'll be cold (or worse, threatening not to go play outside unless he gets dressed!), try opening the shirt to show the head hole and saying, "Ah, I found the bunny hole - let's see if the bunny can hop into his hole!" (I've been using this one SO successfully with Elie - and everyone who knows him knows that he loves to be nakey!)

Now, one thing that most people will say is, "But that's not *my* child.  I talk to my child and he understands."  Fine.  True enough.  Kids do seem to understand these things.  Kids are very adaptable.  If you speak to them like they're small adults, they'll adapt and make do.  If we don't meet them where they are, they'll adapt to our language.  But it doesn't mean it isn't without a loss.

Donna Simmons discusses the risks much better than I possibly can here:
"A life that is narrated by an overly-verbal adult is a life that is outside of a child's experience. He has been removed from the immediacy of what is happening and is being asked to think about things. This is unhealthy and produces children who have a hard time losing themselves in the everydayness of life. Such children often display a variety of developmental challenges which manifest as ADHD or sensory integration or other issues. Or they are children who are demanding and hard to be with. They have lost the hallmark of childhood - to be unconsciously at  peace and in the world."

A key benefit of talking less in general and talking pictorially specifically is that there are many fewer conflicts.  The counterwill (Gordon Neufeld has written extensively about the counterwill, which many parents confuse with being "strong-willed") isn't engaged if you're not talking (verbally or via facial expressions!).  As Jeremy said today, it doesn't solve ALL the conflicts, but, for me, if I can use pictorial language to completely eliminate some/most conflicts, I'll have enough patience and clarity of mind to get me through the rest.

Examples of pictorial language from our life:
  • This is an example from Donna Simmons that is relevant to my next example, so I'm including it here - she suggests to get a child into the car:  "Quick, hop into the car like bunnies - the fox is coming!"
  • Elie doesn't like Yoav to get into the car on "his side".  Today we were parked such that Elie's side was next to the sidewalk and I don't like Yoav to enter the car in the street.  So I opened the passenger-side front door (by the sidewalk) and said to Yoav, "Ah, I found another bunny hole!  Here, hop in here!"  And he happily hopped in.
  • When Elie said he didn't want to wear his helmet when riding his bike (when bringing it to him - no questioning), I said, "Little heads like to be kept safe with helmets." and he said, "Oh." as if I had just said I have two eyes and he then said he wanted to wear the helmet and put it on. 
  • Elie didn't want to hold hands crossing the street and Jeremy (yay!) told him to hop into his Mommy Kangaroo's pouch and she'd hop him across, which he happily accepted!
  • Today the boys were fighting over a playsilk.  To transform the play, I held onto one side and started singing, "Tug, Tug, Tug of War; Tug, Tug, Tug of War.." and pulled.  Then we stood up and were playing tug of war.  When that seemed to get a little wild, I decided to transform again by saying, "All aboard!  The train is about to leave - everyone hop on!"  Then with us still holding on to the playsilk, I started saying, "Chug a Chug a Chug a Chug a Choo Choo" and Yoav caught on right away and started running around the kitchen table with Elie and I hanging on.  Soon we were all laughing and HAVING FUN!
  • Yoav was pretending to drive in a produce box and was knocking into the truck Elie was playing with (Yoav was hungry).  This is another example of transforming play - I got into a different box and said, "Here comes a cement truck!  Beep Beep!"  Soon Elie had also gotten into another box (my kids love produce boxes) and we were all driving around in our pretend trucks HAVING FUN!
  • Part of Talking Pictorially is singing.  I use songs for most of my transitions.  So I never have to engage the kids' intellect with, "It's time for bed."  I simply sing my bedtime transition song and they start heading up the stairs.  Truly.  It's like magic.  For inspiration, my list of transition songs is here.

There is more on this subject at Parenting Passageway.


  1. Great post thank you so much....I'm new to the Waldorf ways and this really helped me to get a better understanding of how to incorrporate the transition songs. I've started with a morning song but would love to have one for every activity in our day. Thanks again for sharring!

  2. Just a comment -- while I otherwise agree with everything you wrote in this post, I do want to point out that you can be very faithrul in your approach to parenting in this manner and STILL have children with ADHD and/or sensory issues (or any number of other developmental issues). The section that you quoted sort of indicated that by meeting the child on their level will somehow magically prevent these developmental issues, but in fact, many of those types of things are genetic or environmental in nature, and are not caused by anything the parent did or did not do. However, it is ESPECIALLY important that kiddos with those sorts of challenges are met with appropriate communication, so in that light, following these sorts of gems of wisdom is just wonderful. :)

  3. ), I said, "Little heads like to be kept safe with helmets."

    i love this. this has been so helpful to me lately also... when its stated in this way, it doesnt feel like a command in any way and seems much easier to accept for my children as well (particularly my 3 year old).

    love the specific examples, emily. keep sharing them please!

  4. Harvest Moon - YES, YES, YES! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote - thanks for adding that!

  5. Wonderful post and incredibly helpful, particularly right now with interactions between my 3.6 and one yo! Thank you. And, would love and find the examples so useful

  6. Hi Emily, I just stumbled on this post. Is the talk you recommend "Talking Pictorially and Living Actively" from Christopherus? Is it worth it to listen with a 3 year old and 8-month old? I feel I'm falling into the trap of "talking too much," but money is tight!

  7. Haha - sorry, I just answered my own question by re=reading your first sentence. I will get this, since you recommend so highly!

  8. Hi Michelle! I think I should listen again myself! Let me know if you get it and like it.