Dear Dr. Debbie,
My wife has an annoying habit of speaking for our son (or coaching him with words to parrot) when we’re out.
I’ve seen her make him so self-conscious that he gets tongue-tied. He is almost three-years-old and is perfectly capable of telling people his name, his age, “Thank you,” and “Good-bye.” At his age, I think it’s perfectly okay for him to choose when and to whom he wants to speak with. When she’s not around I’ve heard him hold his own in conversations with newly met children or adults about colors, cars, dinosaurs, and what he likes to eat.
What can I tell her so she’ll back off and let him speak for himself?
He Can Speak
Tell her she’s interfering with his internal locus of control. This is a term coined by Julian Rotter in 1954 to describe crediting one’s successes, and one’s failures, to one’s own efforts. The opposite, having an external locus of control, describes a person who expects others to call the shots in his life, or believes that luck plays a big part in whether he is successful or not. This person has little initiative, then blames others when things don’t work out the way he wants.
Research suggests that having a sense of control over one’s life leads to achieving more successes. This person is curious and resourceful. He engages in challenging tasks and persists despite difficulties. He is achievement oriented and expects to succeed. He is pro-active about his health. He has good interpersonal relationships yet isn’t easily swayed by social influences. He has contentment with his life as evidenced by high self-esteem, a sense of humor, less anxiety and less depression.
Parenting plays a big part in this, especially in the early years. Age appropriate expectations, including the high need for nurturing in the early years followed by a growing need for independence, helps a child to find his voice. Too much parental direction – including what to say to people – inhibits a child’s ability to rely on his inner resources to interact with the world around him.
Good listening is a good way to encourage a child to speak. Suggest she respond more to what he has to say. You might record a conversation when Mommy isn’t around to prove your point that your son has plenty to say! When she is around, model respectful dialogue so she can see how this approach is much more likely to draw him out than hers.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.