As a speech language pathologist and program manager at LENA, I find the research exciting and extremely important. As a parent of a 22-month-old in the critical window of language development, I find it terrifying. I would guess I’m not the only parent who’s experiencing that feeling. And I don’t think that feeling ends with research about language development — I think it’s about any research related to raising your child.
So, how do we as program staff walk the tightrope of sharing this research with families without making them feel insecure in their parenting skills?
Don’t be afraid of sharing it.
When we first developed LENA Start, we shied away from sharing much language research in our sessions, thinking that families wouldn’t be interested. To our surprise, some of the first pieces of feedback from parents asked for more information about the research behind the importance of early talk. We incorporated that feedback into a session focused on various studies around language development. We showed the video of Dr. Tronick’s Still Face Experiment and used that as a springboard into further conversations. Parents were hungry for information and wanted to talk about the implications. With that in mind, we’re also including similar conversation prompts in LENA Grow 2.0, our professional development program for early childhood educators.
Share it without being judgy.
I often tell my friends who are becoming moms to never, ever, ever ask a parenting question on a parenting forum, as you will leave that forum feeling like a failure. Everyone has an opinion about everything related to parenting, and few people want to believe any way but their own is the right way. Acceptance of multiple ways to get to the same solution is rare on a parenting forum. To that end, when sharing research with families, it’s important to present the research just as the research and let parents come to their own conclusions. We as parents need thought partners in the process, not an evaluator. Be that partner to your parents.
Bring the research to life.
Conversational turns look different in every single house and child care center. Have conversations with your families about what the research looks like in their lives. What’s a conversational turn in their house? When is it easy to get turns? When is it more difficult? Celebrate the fact that we can be unique in how we raise and interact with our children while still focusing on creating crucial conversational turns.
We live in an amazing age where we are learning so much about the brain and language development. As much as I’d sometimes like to bury my head in the sand, I know that’s not what’s best for my kid. I’m a work in progress as I navigate how to make this research work for me, as well as the parents, caregivers, and teachers in all of our LENA programs. I know I’m not alone in this journey, and that’s what makes it a tiny bit less terrifying.