I’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of using this descrip­tion from the Cen­ter for Spo­ken Lan­guage Under­stand­ing at Ore­gon Health and Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty. Prosody involves “…the melody, tim­ing and into­na­tion of speech, refers to the ‘how it is said’ not to the ‘what is said’ of lan­guage”. “We use prosody to con­vey mean­ing, intent and emo­tions. The ways in which we empha­size or express what we say is incred­i­bly impor­tant in con­vey­ing the cor­rect mean­ing of our statements”.

Now I under­stand why my own use of lan­guage with young chil­dren is so effec­tive. I have learned over time to use a range of emo­tions, tones and inflec­tions to get my mean­ing across and, because I am a fair­ly bal­anced human being I do not get angry with tiny babies and toddlers.

I find that many of my col­leagues and par­ents I know are ‘over the top’ in many of their emo­tions. They are often too ver­bal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly affec­tion­ate in words, tone and action (artif­i­cal­ly so in many cas­es — using words every­one expects them to say but with­out real­ly mean­ing what they are say­ing) and well before a child is ready or skilled enough to respond, oth­er than refus­ing to approach that person! 

Those who work with young chil­dren need to be par­tic­u­lar­ly well bal­anced in their deliv­ery of phys­i­cal care and lan­guage in order for their charges to trust them and there­by make excel­lent ver­bal, phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al progress. 

Chil­dren who don’t make excel­lent progress in all realms (those who fail to thrive) often have par­ents who lack bal­anced emo­tion­al reac­tions too. It doesn’t make them bad peo­ple but their own emo­tions and often stilt­ed use of lan­guage def­i­nite­ly affect their children’s devel­op­ment in a neg­a­tive way.

So, when any one of us doesn’t ‘get it right’ in the first year or two of life we ‘get it wrong’ and chil­dren are then set up for a poor (less than opti­mal) devel­op­men­tal trajectory.

Remem­ber — prosody’s the word, I hear the oppo­site every day!