Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Developmental Wednesday #5

This week's developmental Wednesday is devoted to one of the most important but hardest things for parents to do - allowing your preemie to take the lead. One of the best ways to foster your preemie's development is to OWL - Observe, Wait, and Listen. I know that many people have trouble with this concept - particularly during the time when your preemie can play but isn't really verbalizing much. It's far easier (and quite frankly, faster) to just show them how a toy works rather than wait for them to "figure it out" or play with it in their own way. But waiting and letting them take the lead is a great way for your preemie to explore things, develop new skills and for you to learn even more about your preemie.

Here are some tips and suggestions to get you started on the OWL process:

Observe - Watch and see you what your child is interested in and feeling
Even if your preemie isn't yet vocalizing enough to be understood, you can still figure out what they are interested in by observing their focus of attention, facial expressions, and body language. For example, when our daughter gets excited she wiggles her whole body around, she breathe faster and she starts to open and close her hands quickly. In an instant we know that she likes whatever is going on. If you take the time, you will quickly start to notice and understand your preemie's reactions to various things.

Wait - Before jumping in, wait and see what your child does
This is usually the most difficult part for parents. Parents usually see themselves as the teacher - we feel the need to show our children how to do things or how thing work. While that is basically true, taking the time to wait and let your preemie figure things out opens up a whole new world for both of you. When you wait, you are giving your child the time he/she needs to show his/her interests and how he/she feels about something. If you put a toy in front of your preemie, give him/her a minute or two to touch it, turn it over, move it around, etc. until you start to play with it. My daughter has a drum that sings, lights up and makes fun sounds. Lately all she wants to do is flip it over and exam the sides and the bottom. At first I would put it back the "right way" but then I started to just go with it and we have fun pushing it around and feeling the different textures on the side.

Listen - Take time to listen to your child and hear what he/she is trying to say
Before your child can "talk" and participate in a conversation, it gets really easy to do ALL the talking. Does this sound familiar? "Is that a fun toy? Look how bright the colors are. What is your favorite one? I like that one." Etc. etc. As adults, we are used to (and often most comfortable) filling up any silence in a conversation. Even if your preemie isn't talking, have a conversation with him/her and make pauses that allow him/her to make noise. He/she may still stare at you without doing anything but slowly over time he/she will understand that it is his/her turn to make noise. Pretend that they said something - "Did you have fun today?" Pause. "You did? I did too. What was your favorite part?" Pause. "The slides? You did go on the slide a lot." It doesn't matter what you are talking about - just make it a conversation vs. a monologue. You can also do this with a favorite song. Sing most of a song and then stop near the end. Wait and see if your preemie makes noise and then sing the very last part of the song (as if he/she had sung part of it).

So remember: If you find that you are doing all the talking, helping when it isn't needed yet, directing what happens, interrupting, or assuming that you know what your child is saying - take a moment and OWL. You may be surprised by what you learn.

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