Learning Baby Talk
As editors, we rely more than most on our communication skills. Whether we’re conversing with clients, sharing knowledge within the editing community or sculpting a client’s words to help them shine their brightest, our communication skills impact the success of our work and relationships. Nearly all the time, we use these skills in tandem with words — they help shape how words are taken, but the words themselves matter a lot.
Before I became a mother, I wondered how I would communicate with a tiny human without relying on my words. I was daunted by the idea of spending my days with someone who didn’t grasp language. Understandably, adults interact differently amongst themselves than with babies. Watch any room with a baby in it, and it’s clear just where the little one is — around the baby, people’s eyes open wider, their voices jump up an octave, their mouths move in an exaggerated way. It’s easy to think that when we speak to babies, our words hardly matter; it’s the accompanying sounds and gestures that make their mark.
During my pregnancy, I read Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, about the wisdom of French parenting. Druckerman cites conversations with a French caregiver who explains that to encourage a baby to sleep through the night, we need to believe that they can do it, that they’re capable of learning and that they understand when we ask them to sleep, because babies understand everything1. I thought it sounded idealistic (though certainly worth a try), but appreciated the idea of respect for the baby. It mirrors the emphasis in certain classes that we ask our babies for permission before doing something like giving a massage. While words might not be understood yet, the concepts of respect and boundaries are already present.
My interactions with my daughter have reinforced a few things for me. When we strip words away, we’re actually left with quite a few communication tools. Touch, gestures, sounds and facial expressions can get a lot across. While her different cries might sound similar to me, I’m growing confident reading them alongside other cues to figure out what she is trying to tell me. Similarly, when we work with clients, there is so much to our communication that affects how our messages come across. With so many of our interactions taking place online, how can we convey meaning without sounds and tone, and without resorting to emojis?
While my daughter might not understand all my words just yet, I still speak to her with respect and ask for permission when it’s required. I’ve come to think that my words to her should still be chosen carefully, even if they might not have the same importance as in later years of life. As to whether that French trick of asking your baby to sleep through the night actually works — I can’t say for sure, though we’ve now had the gift of uninterrupted sleep more nights than I can count.
1 Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2012), 52-54.
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