Positively Communicating to My Seven Month Old Son

Seven months.

One of my biggest pet peeves has always been this situation: I’m out in public and see a stranger compliment a young child or baby.  Then the parent responds to the stranger with, “Well you can take him home with you if you like.  He’s a handful.  Nah, he’s pretty good… most of the time.”

I’m not a cursing kind of guy, but just thinking about that scenario makes me want to.  (It also makes me want to break a Two and a Half Men DVD.  But mainly because I hate Two and a Half Men.)

The truth is, I know how to be effectively sarcastic.  After all, I write a weekly Bachelor/Bachelorette recap every Monday night.  And it’s always very snarky.

But I have a big beef with being sarcastic towards babies and children.  I despise back-handed compliments.  A compliment barbed in an insult or complaint is not a compliment at all.  Constructive criticism is one thing, but sarcastic comments never motivate anyone to improve anything.  Instead, they break a person down.

I worship positive communication; in my marriage, with my friends and family, and even with my infant son who can’t even speak legitimately.

What he hears me say does matter, despite how young he is.  Because if nothing else, I am setting up a pattern of how I will communicate with him as he matures and is able to understand what I am saying.

My wife came up with a good system: We don’t speak to our son in a tone or with words that we would not use to speak to each other.  Because our son is both my wife and me.

Sure, at times our son can frustrate us; especially when we don’t know what he wants or when we can’t get him to sleep.  But it’s a matter of reminding ourselves that A) he didn’t ask to come into this world, B) he can’t communicate how he feels by using words, and C) he’s not trying to offend us.

It’s a matter of feeling sorry for him during these times he frustrates us most.  He needs an “ah, you poor baby” instead of “go to sleep already; you’re driving me crazy!”

Words matter.  They can destroy just as easily as they can heal.  And even for a cheap laugh with a stranger or a friend, I refuse to sell out.

My son is a reward and a joy. Not a joke or a burden.  As his father, I will not always be able to protect him from the cruel and destructive things people will certainly say to him in his lifetime.  But sure as Shazbot, I can be confident he doesn’t hear them from me.

Add a Comment
Back To The Dadabase
  1. by xDad

    On July 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I enjoyed your article and thoughts on the subject. I think this is a very important topic and on critical for good parenting. I feel the same way when I see a parent with their child on a leash.

  2. by RocketDad

    On July 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Great blog post; I agree completely. And for those of us with more than one child, I would add one more good reason to communicate positively from the cradle. How we speak to (and about) our infant children sets an example for their older siblings. Big brothers and sisters are watching dad for lessons on how to treat the new baby. If they’re preschoolers, they might not pick up on the irony in a grown up joke.

  3. by Mom

    On July 6, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Nice article. Enjoyed reading it. Great piece of advice.

  4. by karen

    On July 6, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Being a parent is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Im sorry to say,I don’t agree with your advise. I take each day as it comes with my son. Its not a JOB, you never know what is going to be thrown at you. So when someone says,”Oh take him he is a terror,no not really.” More than likely they are treating the comment as a compliment and are passing the time of day with you with something called HUMOR. Thats my thought won’t please everyone,but its what i think.

  5. by Carlita Ashworth

    On July 6, 2011 at 2:02 am

    It is people like you that makes a sweeter place in the world however too much sweetness can ‘mask’ a problem and in the guise of perfect positive attitudes does not allow for the ‘negative’ to be released. In this American society, there needs to be a balance of both world of perfection vs hostility. People are too quick to judge and not quick to be understanding of a parent’s woe or momentary lapse of fragility by defusing their frustration. In this cocoon society, you being the stranger may have ‘saved’ that child’s life by ‘listening’ to the child’s frustrated parent…do you get my drift?

  6. by Nick Shell

    On July 6, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Thank you so much.

  7. by Nick Shell

    On July 6, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Karen, thank you for your honesty. I want to compliment you on your ability to disagree with me through a blog comment without being sarcastic or degrading. You and I shall simply agree to disagree and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. Thanks for reading, Karen :)

  8. by Nick Shell

    On July 6, 2011 at 2:26 am

    You’re right, Carlita: Life is ultimately about balance.

  9. by Kelley Chapman

    On July 6, 2011 at 2:30 am

    I also agree with this. I was one to talk with my infants while they grew up and had their ‘spells’ rather than just give up and let frustration rule. If I couldn’t be positive, I would just rock them and sooth with a gentle massage on the back. I was often given advice, just let them cry it out. They are old enough to have a swat and be told no. What are you thinking and what book did you read? When a child is that upset it is for a reason, help them work it out. As for the leash mentioned above, I call them child safety harrnesses, and I loved them and lived by them! In a crowded mall or fair, they so come in handy for peace of mind! Personally there sould be a law to use when in public, less children would wander off with them ;o)

  10. by Malcolm

    On July 6, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Well, if you were my son, I would be proud of you and the way you respect your son. I would say you are a shining example of how little things that parents do, all through their relationship with their spouse and children,is the environment that their child gets nurtured from.

    A child may not reach the ideals you hope it aspires to, but why make your parenting something that they must overcome?

  11. by Brittany

    On July 6, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I’m sorry, but what about mistakes and forgiveness? Nobody walks thru life stress free and those of us who stay at home with our children are inclulded in being able to get stressed once in awhile. So when I’m ripping out my hair and need a breather and my 3 year old wont stop talking, I can surely say “son, I’m sorry but mommy is going to go have a time out because you’re driving me crazy and I need to go recollect my sanity. Forgive my anger and frustration.” then I go get my breather :) if they always see you perfect then when you fail it’s a HUGE deal and when he’s a teenager he’s going to grow to lash out at your “perfection.” BTW your son is only 7months old, how about you write another blog on the same topic when he’s 3!

  12. by Jamie

    On July 6, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Thank you for this article. I wrote something akin to it last week on my facebook page for those close to me to read. I think my frustration stems somewhat from my infertility. When someone tells me I can have their kids in that sarcastic tone I feel incredibly offended for their child(ren). Kids are a blessing and I can’t stand to see then belittled by the people they love and depend on most.

  13. by Lori

    On July 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I agree w/ Brittany, My one year old is a VERY frustrating child but she is also adorable so I am frequently in exactly the situation you describe at the beggining of your article. We are at a store and she is sitting in the cart looking adorable but people didn’t see the 20mins of screaming on the way to the store and they didn’t spend 5months getting her over colic where she screamed for hours everyday. If I release my frustration by making a funny little comment when someone says how cute she is then I would say that is alot more constructive release of it than other options. Laughter after all is the best medicine and sometimes if we don’t laugh we will cry or explode. This is a case of we all need to walk a mile in each others shoes. I would have happily agred w/ you when I had my 1st and she was so sweet tempered most of the time.

  14. by Karen

    On July 6, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Hi Nick,

    I only wish my husband was so easy to agree to disagree with :-)

    The reason why I am not sarcastic or degrading is im English, to posh to be rude. (Im joking). But am loving the responses,very interesting subject.

  15. by shane

    On July 6, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Bravo. I love the point of setting up positive patterns. I taught preschool before becoming a therapist. Parents would often speak like this to me. I never laughed and would address this issue by sharing more positive experiences from the classroom. Your son and wife are lucky and so are you!

  16. by David

    On July 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    This article seems to make no distinction between mild teasing and emotional brutality. A certain amount of rough-housing, verbal and physical, helps prepare the child for interaction with his peers. He will encounter plenty of sarcasm when he starts playing with other kids, some of it quite mean, and he’ll need to know how to deal with it. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could go through life expressing only positive emotions.

  17. by Nick Shell

    On July 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Thanks Jamie. It’s feels good to know that there are many people out there like you who agree with me on this :)

  18. by Nick Shell

    On July 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Thank you so much!

  19. by julie

    On July 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I agree with Karen. I have 4 kids under 8 and when people in the park tell me how adorable they are, I often respond by asking them which one they would like. I’m not being sarcastic or bitter or responding in a harsh tone – I’m just adding a little humor and my kids think it’s funny when we talk about who we should give away. Of course it always ends with ‘ oh but we’d miss them too much’ so we’ll keep them all.
    I think it’s important to keep it real – and my reality is that I love my kids whole-heartedly but it’s the most exhausted and selfless job in the world and often motherhood feels like it’s kicking my arse. I’d rather use some humor than have the pressure of trying to act perfect all the time. Perhaps too it’s because I’m Australian and like the British, sarcasm is a big part of our culture unlike America. We think it’s funny…

  20. by Melinda

    On July 10, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Nick, thank you for being positive, it is a ray of sunshine. I really appreciate this blog! I think Jack is very blessed to have you.

  21. by Nick Shell

    On July 10, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Thank you Melinda. Glad you’re feelin’ as groovy as I am :)

  22. by Christine

    On July 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Enjoy every minute with your beautiful boy. Your word choice is SO important when raising a child and it’s great to see that you are already thinking about this. Remember, too, that specific praise is best. Don’t overdo it with general compliments. Even “I like the way you __” makes it seem like he’s doing it for approval. Kids just need to hear “You decided to wear the blue one.” And try not to follow with a “Good Job!” :) It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but one phrase encourages pleasing others, the other gives him real confidence.

  23. by Nick Shell

    On July 12, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for the advice, Christine :)

  24. [...] 48 hours of being published, my post “Positively Communicating with My Seven Month Old Son” received over 1,300 “likes” on Facebook.  Interestingly, during that same short period of [...]