Author Tracey Blake sounds like the sort of over-suffocating, helicopter-type of parent ‘my child is so brilliant/amazing/cleverer than yours’ that somehow I always got stuck next to at awful school evenings.
The co-author of a new book, Small Talk, which aims to ‘teach’ parents how to speak to their kids, in a recent article in the Daily Mail, she writes: “My daughter’s favourite topic of conversation at the moment is art school. ‘When I go to art college in September I’ll get the train from Marylebone and walk from there. I might need to get a bus, too. I’ll have to check the map,’ she says”.
So is her daughter – who already sounds a crashing bore if that’s truly the way she always speaks – 18 years old perhaps? No – of course not – this clever little soul is just three and Tracey gushes, “now has the language skills of a five-year-old and happily tells elaborate stories, in the abstract using different tenses.”
This apparently is not due to daughter Minnie’s amazing intellect (although one can assume she must have a high IQ presumably inherited from her parents…) but down to Tracey’s fabulous parenting skills. You see while most mums feel lucky if in their frazzled lives they manage to find time to read their kids a bedtime story, Tracey who also has son Monty (he is just one but she boasts can already say numerous words too) has been teaching them to speak from birth.
And now Tracey – who says she was first given this idea by her friend and co-author speech therapist Nicola Lathey – has written a book listing sets of exhausting verbal exercises you must do with your children.
Her list recently appeared with her article publicising her book in the Daily Mail – and is so glaringly obvious that I can’t comprehend why anyone would actually pay £12.99 (or £8.31 if ordered on Amazon) to read it. Such gems as speak clearly, say what you see, repeat words and talk sense (not dadda boo boo honey pot baby etc).
The problem I have with this sort of book is this. While Tracey says research claims 33 per cent of children start school without the necessary verbal skills, they are unlikely to be the sort of mums reading this article, and wanting to do the best for the kids (so contemplating buying a book).
The truly neglectful parent just isn’t going to be reading all of this anyway – and incidentally routine health checks should be picking those children up and then their parents should be given professional and individual advice. There is also no guarantee doing all this with your child will work. Well, to clarify, even if your kids do talk earlier, there is no guarantee they will turn into the sort of adult you hope or have a happier life because of it (and there is the danger all this cajoling to speak early could make your kids unhappier…)
As a mum of three I can only remember too well just how much pressure this sort of book – and the sort of competitive parent Tracey appears to be – put on me as a parent.
If only I’d known then what I know now! For example, one of my children barely uttered a word until he was three. If my memory serves me correctly he didn’t walk either until he was 18 months old. So fast forward to now and he is in his 20s. So what’s happened? Well, he graduated with a 2:1 in psychology, did a gap year with me (writing and interviewing…) where interviewees and editors alike absolutely adored him (and he was offered a traineeship with a national newspaper) and then he beat hundreds of other candidates to eschew journalism and work in the City. Oh, and he plays sport at a semi-professional level…
My youngest child – and with two boisterous brothers and a full time job to hold down working as a writer from home, I always felt I never had enough time to properly devote to her – was talking in sentences by nine months (yes even earlier than Tracey’s daughter!!) But, while yes I admit I was so proud (although I was puzzled as to why she spoke so early and no idea now why) frankly there is no difference in either conversation or achievements between her and both her brothers now.
Tracey says “I’m not suggesting you become the pushy mother from hell and turn your baby’s early months of life into one long hot-housing education exercise” but if this isn’t hot-housing what is? And where as a parent do you hope such home education will lead to? Your daughter going to Oxbridge and freezing her eggs?
Unfortunately as a parent – and wanting to do my best – I often tried these things I read in parenting articles. Ironically when my kids were young, I was a writer for all the baby and children magazines so was always being sent something or other about how to be a better parent. But my own good intentions usually quickly fell by the wayside.
As my children say now, there is an awful lot of video footage of them as kids running riot in the garden, pinging plums at one another and stoking bonfires (yes I know I was lucky they were ok) and in the background, there was me. Usually I was blissfully oblivious of the chaos around me – generally seen engrossed in a newspaper (and not much has changed…)
However, seeing how my kids have turned out, I’m just so glad I never bought any of these sorts of books. I also gave the sort of parent who likes to compare their (brighter they think) child with yours a wide berth and I suggest if you are a new parent you follow your instincts and, for the sake of your children and your own sanity, you do the same.