I was driving to the shopping mall one day, when I noticed my baby son staring out the window. He appeared to be deep in thought. How does he think, I wondered. He isn’t concentrating on thoughts comprised of sentences from the English language.
“Language capitalizes on, ‘I know how objects behave and interact,'” says Sue Hespos Professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, “This pre-existing ability suggests that children do think before they can speak.”
It’s not words but a measure of feeling we are all sifting through. Growing and learning with meaning, deeper than a words meaning. We know because we feel it is so. The emotions of the young however, are not restricted by rationalizing; interrupted by thoughts of doubt; or confused by mental babble. Babies have the unappreciated gift of drifting images as they feel their way along.
Yes, babies do express themselves long before they can speak. They communicate through hand gestures, eye contact, facial expressions and touch. But, when a toddler points at an object it is not necessarily because he wants what he points at, it may be because he is looking for your reaction to the object. This type of subtlety makes it important to tune into a baby’s gesturing.
A mother that responds appropriately to a baby's body language can help his social, emotional, and intellectual development. The baby of a mother who can "read the signs" will fuss or cry a lot less; gain confidence in communicating, and value its importance. If your child is telling you something, it is often necessary to look at how he is acting as well as what he is trying to say.
Some babies are highly sensitive to their environment. Their nervous systems absorb and process ten times more information than the average person's. Leaving some children exhausted after normal activities; overwhelmed by the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, and mentally exhausted from absorbing the feelings and energies of others. A highly sensitive child is likely to be seen as shy.
We know it when we feel it, or at least seem assured we are heading in the right direction. But the plot thickens as we grow. Our thoughts and feelings become restricted and directed. Research shows that although early on infants can distinguish between the subtle inflection found in different languages, once babies reach 10 months, they join with adults and only make distinctions in their own language.
Only emotion keeps us universally connected. Emotion is the communication connection with animals,as well. This subtle undercurrent resonates like an aura around everyone that we encounter. Respecting and reacting positively to information we "feel" is a great way for kids to develop compassion.
We should be encouraging our kids to acknowledge and trust their senses and instincts. One way is by showing that we are tuned in to their feelings. It is within spiritual empathy, or feeling, that we find knowledge; the grace to live constructive lives; and the ability to retain some of the dignity and beauty of our childhood. Remind children that language does not express all we have to say. Something that is "felt," not heard is still real, but as with words, often requires healthy esteem to interpret it.
Eventually our ability to understand does become “narrowed.” By the end of the first three years, the child’s brain has twice as many neuronal connections as an adult’s brain. But by age 10 pruning has begun. It is ironic that our desire to connect shortchanges our ability to (without bias or discrimination) feel the love.
It is a tragedy that children are compelled to let go of the basis of human understanding to join with society’s current style of communicating. We are remiss in no longer teaching the power of both the chosen word and the tone it is delivered on, or the value of remaining open to the subtleness of what others can appreciate. Because in the end we become what we feel.
* The research information is taken from “Conceptual precursors to language” an article published in the July 22 issue of “Nature,” by Sue Hespos, assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, and Elizabeth Spelke, professor of psychology at Harvard University