Biten. Deedle. Hah-di-lah-di. I'll never forget the day my mother-in-law called me at work and asked what those words meant. She was watching my son for the afternoon while my husband went to a few client appointments and could not for the life of her understand what he was trying to say. "How is he saying 'biten'?" I asked. "Is he pointing and does it sound like a question? If so, he's wondering what it is he's pointing at. Otherwise it's a statement. Oh, and 'deedle' means toy." I understood perfectly what he was getting at. For the rest of the world it understandably would be clear as mud.
I don't think there's a parent out there that hasn't at some point not understood what their youngster was trying to say. Take Trixie's dad in Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. He and his daughter, a toddler, are enjoying a day together, running errands and a trip to the laundromat. Things go horribly wrong on the way home, though. Something is missing, something VERY important, something that should NEVER EVER be left behind...the all-important stuffed animal. In Trixie's case, it's Knuffle Bunny...and when she tries to tell her dad he just doesn't get it.
We've all been there, trying to decipher our child's code that's complicated by distress-induced tears, hiccuping cough, and my personal favorite, the boneless flop fit. Trixie's no different than any other kid in communicating her problem and the usual looks of disgust are aimed at her dad from passersby. But really, is it her fault? Isn't a little patience required? Trixie's tale is something everyone can identify with, whether it's the child understanding the importance of Knuffle Bunny or the grown up reading the story commiserating with dad's lack of understanding. But, there's an subtler message buried in here, one of patience and taking one's time.
Part of helping a child learn to communicate is slowing down and listening to what they have to say...and how they're saying it. Trixie's dad is in such a hurry to get to the next thing on his to-do list that he fails to realize that she's trying to say something...something that is important to her. Perhaps the single most important thing in improving a child's communication--right after reading to them regularly and frequently--is listening to them.
Actually, this communication speed bump comes along at least twice. Twice? Yep. The teen years. How many misunderstandings could be avoided if everyone stopped and listened to each other? I'm not talking about the "following orders" type of listening. I mean respecting that how and what is being said--shared--is important to the person saying it. The teen equivalent of a boneless flop fit--the requisite eye rolling and shoulder slouching--and Knuffle Bunny being left behind might be happily avoided.
Fortunately for Trixie, mom-the-codebreaker is right there at the door when she and dad return and quickly deciphers the problem. Knuffle Bunny is rescued from the dryer and all is right with the world.
Kids aren't the only ones who can say the darndest things, however. 'Hah-di-lah-di'? For our son that meant 'socks', his translation of us always saying "Let's put on your socky-wocky-doo-da's" before putting them on and heading out the door with Mommy Bunny...who has never been left behind.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
Published by Hyperion, 2004