Have you ever travelled to a country where your native tongue isn’t the primary language spoken? If you have, what did you notice about communication between the locals and yourself?
If your experience was anything like mine, you made slow and careful attempts to use what little you knew of their language. For the most part, the locals probably treated you, as a foreigner, with patience, consideration, and compassion.
They knew you weren’t from ‘around these parts’, and they probably appreciated your paltry attempts to communicate with them in their own tongue.
Chances are that you made a mess of it and struggled to even utter a single word correctly. But you tried, and they gave you credit for that. In fact, they probably did more than give you credit for trying. They likely spoke to you kindly. They may have even gone out of their way to help you solve your challenges and get what you wanted. And you probably had at least one kind person who said
“I speak English. How can I help you?”
Your relief in finding someone who could understand you would have been enormous.
Not all the locals treat us so well when we’re in their country though.
In my experience there are some who look at me incredulously, wondering why I would visit their country if I don’t speak their language or understand their laws and customs. Plenty rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders, and pretty much said, “How long is this going to take?”, before they ‘did their duty’ to help me, but without kindness or patience.
Perhaps in your travels you have experienced that kind of contempt from those who knew you didn’t speak their language.
In parenting we are faced with similar circumstances. Our children are, in many ways, strangers in the world of adults. They don’t speak our language particularly well – and we seem to have forgotten how to speak their language as we’ve aged. Our laws, customs, and culture can confuse them. They find navigating our world challenging. Their attempts at acting like ‘locals’ in our land can be clumsy, ignorant, and downright rude.
How do we respond to them as they try to work out how to be socialised into our ways?
Do we treat them like real people who are simply in unfamiliar territory and need a little guiding? That is, are we like the patient, kind locals who offer compassionate reassurance and look for ways to be helpful? From time to time do we stop and show them that we speak their language – children-ese?
Or do we treat them like obstacles, difficulties, and impediments in an otherwise well-ordered life? Are we abrupt, rude, and condescending, trivialising their attempts to communicate with us and castigating them for attempting to venture somewhere they’re ill-equipped to be?
If you’ve travelled a road like this, you’ll know which one felt best for you.