"I gotta go to the bathroom!" the toddler exclaims.
"You have to go to the bathroom?" the mother asks.
Is Mom deaf?
Nope. She's teaching her child to speak properly, and she's doing it in a way that keeps him from feeling criticized.
It's magic, really. Mom repeats the statement, gives it a little spin, and voilà! Kid-speak becomes proper English, eventually, and no children are harmed in the process.
Learning how to speak well won't guarantee your little pumpkin will get into an elite college or land a great job when he graduates. But I can't think of a single thing in life that's made more difficult by effective communication.
What can you say that'll make you sound more intelligent, whether you're flipping burgers or flipping houses or flipping multi-billion dollar companies?
That's right. The poet Taylor Mali has a suggestion if you're tempted to fill a moment of silence with "um" or "uh" or "er."
"People are afraid that silence will make them sound stupid," Taylor says. "So they fill it with something that's guaranteed to make them sound stupid."
How do you break the habit? Ask people who care about you to nag you until you quit. Wear a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder to snap out of it. Make a point of listening to yourself when you talk.
Better yet, record yourself and then listen. Silence won't feel as painful by comparison.
And what about your kids, who seem to insert the word "like" between every two or three words? Taylor's poem, "Like Lilly Like Wilson" might help.
I bet you've heard friends say the following when they mean the opposite: "I could care less." A communications consultant I know says it doesn't matter how many people make this mistake. They all sound stupid. If you make it don't be surprised when your kids do, too.
It reminds me of a popular blogger who would've said "that" where I just said "who." Ironic, if only because in one of his posts he wondered if you knew the difference between "its" and "it's."
So what's the lesson here? To be a language snob? Um, no.
I just think it would be a shame to be taken out of the running for something you want because the person with the power to give it to you gets the impression you couldn't care less.
There's never a bad time to model the behavior you want to inspire.
When our daughter was little I bent down when she started talking so I wasn't towering above her. When she was really little that backfired because she imitated me and bent down herself -- our version of a limbo contest, I guess. But if there's one present I gave her I feel better about than anything else, it was presence. When she talked, I listened. She had my attention. I wasn't texting, and I wasn't waiting for her to finish so I could start.
I'd like to think I'm part of the reason people love to be around Katie, because they bask in her attention.
Have you ever been shopping and walked by a mom or a dad with a screaming toddler in tow? Have you ever seen the parent start screaming back at the child? The parent's often letting rip with some variation of, "Calm down!"
When this works -- and it's rare, in my unscientific example -- I have a theory.
Even the toddler can't believe what she's hearing!