She’s teaching grownups how to talk with children.
Sounds so easy, right?
“What’s your name?” we ask the child standing in front of us in the line.
“How old are you?” we say to the kid sitting next to us on the bus.
“What class are you in?” we say to our friend’s daughter when arriving at her home for a party.
Nine times out of ten, the child either doesn’t answer (in which case her mother scolds or apologizes or answers for her) or she does, but in a parrot-like, sing-song, let’s-get-this-over-with style.
Manju knows there is a better way. Because Manju believes that children are capable of more. She believes they have plenty to tell us. She thinks we just aren’t giving them the chance.
So for the last four years, Manju has been teaching a class called “Learning Language and Loving It“. She is a trained and certified Hanen© instructor and her mission in life is to get adults to understand that children will talk to us as long as they believe that we are ready to listen.
How many of us are?
What class are you in?
How old are you?
What is your name?
The same old tired questions. The same old boring gambits. The moment you ask a child what her name is or how old she is or what class she is in she knows you have no interest in what she really wants to tell you.
So Manju teaches us to take a different approach.
I tried it today in the bania’s shop. There was a little girl in front of me in the line. She was holding a white plastic box with a big red cross on it and she couldn’t stop looking at me. I was literally just about to ask her what her name was when I remembered a story Nishant (one of Manju’s students) had told at his graduation from the Hanen course.
He and his colleague Rizwan (who has not yet taken the course – Sign up today, Rizwan!) were working the Help Desk at the Doon Hospital. A man stopped to ask for directions and his little boy was with him. Rizwan, ever-friendly, reached out to the child: “What’s your name, beta?” The child instantly retreated behind his father’s leg.
Nishant, fresh from a Hanen© course, said: “Rizwan! That won’t work! Comment on something he’s interested in!”
Rizwan is a quick study. “Wow!” he said. “What a great t-shirt! Did you get that in Paltan Bazaar?”
The child emerged from behind Dad and began to chat with Rizwan.
So, remembering that lesson there in the check-out lane, I changed mid-stream and asked the little girl: “What’s in that box?”
She paused. I could see her sizing me up. Is this a grownup asking me a real question?
“Kuch nahin,” (Nothing.) she answered.
“Nothing?” I asked. “So why are you carrying it?”
“It’s my doctor’s kit,” she said apologetically.
“Are you going to be a doctor?”
“So can I come to you if I get sick?”
“What will you do if I come?”
“I’ll do a check-up.” She spoke with authority.
“And then? Will you give me an injection?”
“I do have a needle in my box.” She said it with a little bit of regret and a little bit of anticipation.
I happened to glance then at her mother. She was standing there looking amazed. “She never talks to strangers like this! Never!”
The secret lives of children. Manju Singhania has the key to unlock them.
It’s not hard.
All it takes is time.
All it takes is belief.
All it takes is the memory of your own childhood.
The child in front of you has a whole world to share.
You may be the one who assures her that her world is real, that her imagination is worth something, that her dreams can come true.
She might really become a doctor. Or an artist. Or an engineer.
Talk to her.
See what he has to say.
There is a way to do it. You can figure it out.
It’s not hard.
In fact, it’s so much fun!