I am a university professor, and I love to work with parents–especially with parents who share my story. I came from Mexico when I was 23 years old with my two children and my husband. I had a sixth grade education when I came, and I could say three things in English: “thank you,” “sorry,” and “yes.” My story, which is similar to the stories of many parents in our school system, motivated me to accomplish ambitious goals, like getting a doctorate at Harvard University. I was inspired, like many immigrants, by the prospect of offering a better life to my children. For this reason, I understand the struggles of parents like me from a very deep part of my heart. My first-hand experiences from talking with my own children have given me great insights into the importance of having even the simplest conversations with your children.
Here are three benefits that come from talking with your children.
Knowing Your Child Is a Great Gift to Help Them Learn
I currently teach about the development of language and literacy for bilingual children. I train teachers and parents on ways of creating opportunities for children to learn language by talking with them. As I work with parents, I hear their doubts and disheartened voices. I hear my voice in the voices of Spanish-speaking parents; when they express doubts about their ability to support their children, such as when they ask, “What do I talk to them about? I don’t have anything to teach them, soy una burra, (I am dumb).” I know of the frustration and pain felt when you think that no matter what you do or how hard you worked and suffered to get here, you can’t give your children the skills they need (like English) to be successful and have a better life. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to say to these parents what I wish someone had told me when I was parenting young children.
Through a few simple questions, I tell them that they are an important part of their child’s education. Here are a few questions I share with them.
- Do you know your child’s fears? Is he/she afraid of the dark?
- What is his/her favorite movie?
- When was the last time you went to the park?
- Does he/she like to take baths?
Parents usually stare at me and think for a while, and then they smile and make a face, which seems to say, “Of course, I know that.” Yes, of course, the parents know all of this about their child, and I could ask hundreds of other questions that they would also know about their child and their family. Then I ask, “Now, if your child had the best teacher in the entire world, would she know all of that about your child?” They usually laugh and say ,“No.” I then point out, “What do you mean that you don’t know what to talk to your child about? You have so much precious information that no one else has.”
Genuine Conversations Help Language Development
Talking to children is not limited to discussions about the knowledge they read in books or watch on the Discovery Channel; there is plenty of that at school. The talking that best supports language development in young children are the conversations that matter to them to which they could relate. The other type of talking that supports language development is the one closest to their heart, which also binds parents’ relationship with their children. Not only do parents know what their child needs, but they are often the only ones who know them and can share this knowledge with their child. I would like to tell parents: “The teacher could know a million facts, but she does not know your child the way you do. Remember that she has 20 or more children that she also needs to teach.”
Keep Your Culture Alive – Talk with Your Children
Bilingual families have two treasures. Not using their own language because they think it is not valuable is a great loss. Imagine if you had two bank accounts. In one bank you have millions of pesos, and in the other, you only have a few hundred dollars. Would you only use the one in which you have dollars to support your family? Or would you use all that you have, especially if it is something you have in plenitude? The money is analogous to all of the experiences that you, as a parent, share with your child–that is, your language and your love for them. Listen and pay attention to what is important to your children, such as what they like and dislike. Answer to their needs with warmth, and share your ideas without judgment. Talk to your children about what you see, do, feel, and dream about, as nobody else will be able to do this.
These experiences will help you sustain the bond you share with them and it will help them as they grow and begin relationships with others outside of their home. Use all you have, especially your own language. If your child already knows a word in Spanish and it is meaningful to him because it is part of your shared experiences, he/she will learn that word in English four times faster than if he/she did not know it in Spanish.
Conversations strengthen the bond of your loving relationship and this is the best way to help them develop roots and wings to succeed in the new society. As immigrants, sometimes we lose our history, our traditions, our culture, even our language and extended families, but we can’t afford to lose our relationship with our children. Talk with them!
Dr. Quiroz joined Concordia after a remarkable career in education. She started as an elementary teacher then earned her Doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. While working at Stanford University, Quiroz developed a program for Latino families building parenting skills that foster children’s school readiness. Her passion for helping families and school improve the education of at-risk students is evident throughout her career work.