I’m sure you have seen it by now. A dad and his young child sitting on the couch having a full conversation about the end of a television show; however, this baby boy doesn’t even have all of his words yet. To most people, this is one of the cutest things they have ever seen. The smiles, the giggles, the hand gestures. So cute! And, that's why it has gone viral. It gives us all the feels. They've even been interviewed by CNN.
But, to child psychologists and speech and language pathologists who work in early child development, this video is more than the feels. It is complete magic. It’s so magical in fact that I predict it will be used in classrooms and conferences to teach parents and professionals how to maintain connection with children who are not yet speaking. Let me tell you why:
1. The gleam in their eyes
This father and his son are feeling the magic of human connection. Did you see it in their eyes? In Floortime play therapy, we call this “the gleam in the eye” and it is the holy grail of connecting with a child. That magical sparkle that shows you the child is "with you," sharing the moment and having fun. For this little guy, it’s in his eyes, but also in his giggles and his little excited body movements as he is feeling understood by his caregiver.
2. The rhythm of their conversation
These two are enjoying each other so much that there is a tangible rhythm to the back and forth of their engagement. Each one is delighted to see how the other responds, which keeps the anticipation and sweet rewards going.
3. The non-verbal communication
Many parents think that babies start to communicate when they develop words; however, speech and language therapists know that you do not need words to communicate. This baby is relying on his gestures, head turns paired with eye contact, intonation in his voice, and it’s all coordinated together to “say” to his dad, “Me too! I see this! You do, too? Unbelievable!”
4. The mirror neurons are firing away
We all have these things called mirror neurons in our brain that are crucial for young children to help them learn through imitation. This dad is mirroring almost every gesture and intonation of his son and this baby’s mirror neurons are likely having a party! Watch Dr. Dan Siegel explain mirror neurons here.
5. The assumed competence
This dad is acting like he understands what his child is saying. Why is this important? Because he appears confident about what his son is "saying," his son is likely feeling understood, even though his speech is not fully developed. His son is also likely to become more confident in his own communication and keep reaching out for more connection. This father also adds comments, assuming he and his son are thinking alike by saying, “That’s what I was thinking!” like he is right there in the same idea with his child, although the child’s ideas aren't very clear. This likely makes his son feel safe and understood. Bravo!
So, what can we learn from this fantastic display of connection? Our children see us, hear us, and are learning by imitating us, often more frequently than we even realize. Babies are smart and not being able to talk has little to do with intelligence. Human connection is the foundation of a trusting attachment for a child to feel safe and cared for in this world. Once we feel safe, we can learn and grow. So go catch the eyes of a child, watch their face light up, smile back. You will feel the magic!
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