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Happy talking to toddlers

As a secondary teacher with toddlers of my own, I see both sides of today's child: the natural chattiness of the toddler and the sullen silence of the adolescent.

At home, you swiftly acclimatise to surreal conversations, such as: "Daddy, I'm dead." "I hope not." "Yes I am." At school, it's the reverse. Silence is certainly golden in Years 9 and 10, with many students making up for the loudness of their music with the sotto voce stillness of their conversation. Whether it's Keats, global warming or the Renaissance you're discussing, tired teenagers have heard it all before and resent any attempts to start a discussion on the subject.

In the classroom, you never need to rack your brain too much, as most teenagers don't deign to ask questions. At home it's different. Your four-year-old is firing on all fronts. "Are the clouds the sun's home?" "Why is the sea so wavy?" Unlike the constnt "no comment" from the adolescent, toddler-talk can astonish with its vibrancy and freshness. Take our two-year-old's mealtime protest: "No trees, no trees," whenever someone offers him broccoli. But teenager and toddler alike deem parents unreasonable at all times. Our four-year-old's angle on the problem of no pets is: "Why can't we have a deer?" Toddler-talk constantly demonstrates an eager and enquiring mind, and it's this that separates it from the adolescent variety.

The only time teenagers tend to ask "why?" is when you want them to do some work. Ten years of compulsory education seem to stifle that unfettered spirit of enquiry.

Parents should treasure toddlers' sayings. All too soon they'll be spitting curses from behind closed doors or stone-walling you with total teenage silence.

Andrew Cunningham teaches English at Cranleigh independent school in Surrey

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