Your inner voice is an important part of your personality. It is the thing which makes you question yourself, allows you to make decisions, and most importantly tells you what the consequences of any action you are about to take might be.
Young children do not have an inner voice, or at least not a developed one.
It is quite common for children who have been in care to have an underdeveloped inner voice for their age. This can in part be because of a lack of communication skills; if they lack good language skills how can they create that inner monologue that we take for granted? The lack of good language skills can stem from a range of things, from severe neglect to not being read to at all, which many children from care experience.
This can have an incredible effect on their behaviour. What we have to remember is that the inner voice is the thing which mediates and inhibits our actions and stops us doing things which will inevitably lead to a result which we don’t want to have to deal with. We know that toddlers aren’t able to do this kind of mediation for themselves, but we expect older children to be able to.
But what if they can’t? What if their early experiences have not allowed them to develop their inner voice properly? It is all too common in the adoption community. Children being expected to behave in a way which they simply aren’t capable of doing. Rather than disciplining them for perceived bad behaviour maybe they should be looked at as if they aren’t as old mentally as they look physically. They may have the knowledge of an 8 year-old, but that doesn’t mean that have the emotional age of one.
If you look at the behaviour of an 8 year-old without a developed inner voice, you may see similarities with a toddler. Where you might discipline an 8 year-old, you would carefully redirect a toddler giving a simple narrative as to what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Where you might tell off the 8 year-old and expect them to automatically know why, you might consider it to be a learning experience for the toddler.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
That is a quotation I’ve seen on a few Internet memes recently, and it is something which struck me as being true.
With an infant or toddler we help them build their inner voices by teaching and showing them consequences, helping them to see what is good and what is bad. We give them the ability to create their own inner monologue by being an external one while it is developing. We tell them that if they’re climbing on the sofa they might hurt themselves if they fall off, if they play with the door they will get hurt if they trap their fingers. Most importantly of all, we give them the ability to communicate by reading to them, speaking to them, singing to them and interacting with them in positive ways.
What we need to be more aware of is that the early experiences of children from care may not have allowed them to develop these skills properly. That they do not do things because they want to be deliberately naughty but, much like the toddler, because they are unable to properly predict the outcomes of their actions. If this is not recognised the consequences of this can be catastrophic to their education. They get branded as disruptive and excluded, when actually they needn’t be if they are treated in the correct way and have appropriate expectations applied to them.
My children are both still, for a little while longer at least, toddlers. They are both developing all the time, but they are both different and need to be parented differently. We have just entered the time when our youngest is the age our eldest was when we became their parents. The experience of parenting a child that age has not helped in the slightest, their needs are almost polar opposites.
While they both originated from the same birth family, they both experienced completely different lives in their first 24 months. I can see that our youngest is developing his inner voice nicely, at the moment the ‘devil’ sitting on his shoulder sometimes seems to have slightly more say than the ‘angel’ does, but we know the ‘angel’ is there guiding him to do the right thing. He uses his initiative to work things through, learning independently how to do things.
Our eldest is different. I think his inner voice is slightly underdeveloped for his age. He needs us to guide him through every new situation, he is comfortable with scenarios that he’s encountered before and been told how to deal with. Outside of this comfort zone can be very upsetting for him. We are aware of this though, so we are able to adapt what we do to try to help him evolve his inner voice.