Exaggeration is a great tool for teaching toddlers and preschoolers. Consider the challenges young children face in learning language. Time? Even my five year old has difficulty with this concept. If/then statements? my baby hears the last word and adds a “now” in order to understand them. Thus, “If you eat your peas, you can eat your cake” becomes “cake now” and life can be a mini tragedy when cake now doesn’t happen.
My husband recommends that I note that exaggeration (either hyperbole or litote) can communicate untruths, and this is not what I’m talking about here. I try hard not to say “Just a minute” unless it is really a minute. I don’t feel comfortable pretending to leave a child who is slow to obey. Exaggeration can be used to evil as well as good.
However, any tool we can use to help them understand language, extend their attention, and apply biblical truths is invaluable. I have found exaggeration to be one of the best for early childhood. Here’s what it looks like in our house:
- Repeating instruction more simply, or in a different structure. In its simplest form, I simply follow a word I know my children don’t understand with one they do. A little more complex, a passive voice sentence might be changed to active voice. I make these decisions when I sense that my children don’t understand what I’m saying, and sometimes I just do it automatically. After If you eat peas, then you get cake, I might say, Eat peas FIRST. Cake LATER. (Yes, it takes some practice to get it right and sometimes I repeat a sentence three times before I see a glimmer of understanding.) The rule of thumb I often use when explaining something difficult is the same number of words baby is using to speak, plus one. Since my twenty month old is primarily using two sentences, I’ll try to keep my sentences to three words when explaining something to her. I don’t keep track after their language jumps around age three.
- Emphasizing particular words is helpful. The most obvious example might be emphasizing a not or a no.
- A silly voice adds interest and conveys meaning (i.e., pouty voice, or an angry voice). If I’m reading the Bible, I can keep their attention by exaggerating the mood of a speaker. If I’m reading about Nebuchadnezzar, I can read his words in a pompous style. If I’m reading about Saul pouting, I can stick out my lower lip and knit my brows as I talk.
- Exaggeration when giving examples is helpful. Let’s say that I’m trying to help them understand what the Bible says about finding wise friends. I’ll ask them, What if a friend says, Let’s not obey, is that a wise or foolish friend? My example is a little extreme on purpose. It’s not likely that a friend is going to say it that plainly, but it helps them when they’re just trying to understand the basic concept.
These are just a couple that I find myself using throughout the day.