14 April 2008

Word choices can take the sting out of a disagreement

Sara is teaching tact and open-mindedness early:

Can a word be a hack? If it can, I propose "mistaken." We've introduced this one to our 2 year old, and it just feels right. We use it to admit we are wrong. We use it when she is mistaken about something. And recently, she's started using it with her classmates a daycare ("Anthony said this is 4 (holding up 5 fingers), but I told him he was mistaken, this is five."). It's a nice word, with a neutral sound to it, but even better is that it replaces the word "wrong." It invites you to explore what you thought was the case, but now someone is telling you may not be. Isn't that a lovely philosophy; so much better than a black and white "wrong."

I love the idea of giving kids an education in how words can "feel," not just what they mean. In an effort to keep the focus on the behavior and not the person, we often talk to our kids about certain actions or words as "not being friendly" rather than being "mean." One must avoid veering into "parentspeak" and using vague words kids don't understand (with "appropriate" sitting at the top of my list) -- but I truly believe that choosing our words carefully makes a huge difference in social learning.

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heh. I'm such a word geek. I love this! I use it sometimes spontaneously, but I'll consider using it more intentionally.

And I'm sorry, but Asha, we love 'appropriate' around here. My kids know what it means. They use it on each other, along with respectful, kind, thoughtful, generous, acceptable, condiserate. I like to target the word to the actual issue, and that's another reason to like 'mistaken' - it is the most accurate term for that situation - it isn't just an incorrectness, it is a belief in the truth of the incorrectness, so 'mistaken' applies beautifully.

Granted, my kids are also obviously word geeks, too... I'm sure if they weren't, there'd be resistance to the wordy-wordy thing at our house. They'll let ya know if something isn't working for them, yes? :)

(For example, a few years ago, when Gabe was almost 7, which means Bren was about to be 3, I overheard them having a fight outside. "No, you don't get to be the diurnal animal, I want to be diurnal! YOU have to be nocturnal, instead! You can be a bat, that's nocturnal." "NO, I want to be diurnal, can we both be diurnal? PLEASE?" Yeah, word geeks live here...

(Oh, and with appropriate, you have to define the term for the situation - I agree with not just dumping it on them, but USE it. Like, 'Appropriate behavior at church is quiet, calm, and respectful. Running and screaming are not appropriate, unless there's an emergency.')

The funny thing is my wife used the word conjunction the other day and our daughter started singing "Conjunction Junction"

I love this! My daughter always likes to remind me when I've said I was "wrong." "Mistaken is much better, and for her, too!!

I also agree with Hedra; appropriate can be fine to use with kids. My 3 year old daughter has understood what it means, its distinction from acceptable, and other more "geeky" words from age 2.

"Appropriate" is used sparingly in our house, and very effectively. When a child in play does something they are told is not appropriate (parading private parts or similar things kids will do), they stop immediately and never do it again. They realize if they tried these inappropriate behaviors in other situations, they could be mightily embarrassed.

Mistaken is a welcomed change from wrong and there are so many examples of word replacement.

Great hack! I also heard somewhere (was it here?) that when a child asks a questions starting with, "Mom?", I say "yes?" instead of "what?"

This is especially helpful on the days when they are driving me batty, and my "what?" may come out a bit, er, exasperated! It also ensures that my children here the word yes plenty, which is hard when they are always wanting things for which I have to say no.

My 6 y/o daughter started saying "I don't care" a lot, so I suggested "I don't mind." This usually comes up with "you might have trouble with such and such" or similar situations when "I don't care" can sound pretty obnoxious.

My baby is just 1 yr-old, but I plan to use a replacement phrase for "bad". With nephews and nieces, I've used "not good" instead of "bad!" when they do things that they oughtn't (things that are "bad"?). It takes has less sting and implies that there is a "good" way to act. What do you think?

We use "mistaken" and "mistake" all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone can atone for them. We also use the word "rules" alot... we all have rules to follow, and my 2yr old is starting to remind ME of MY rules! I somehow feel these words build self-thoughtfulness. Is that a word? Hmmm...

hedra: That is hilarious! I can't wait until little dude is old enough for me to teach him words like "happenstance" and "albeit"...

With my kids now 6, 4 and 2 I've seen my best laid plans about what I would and would not say go all to pot. I agree in theory that choosing your words carefully is important. I also think, however, that the world is too big a place for parents to think that they can custom sculpt the experience for their child by only using certain words. Not to pick on Paul, but that "bad = not good" thing has always been a peeve of mine, I've heard it in the past. It is one thing to choose your words carefully, but when it veers into outlawing certain words like you can keep your child from a concept by not uttering a certain syllable, I'm not a fan. Better for the child to understand the word bad, and what it means, and why it is not appropriate(ha!) to use it to refer to another person, than simply to hide the word.

We have experimented with teaching our kids different words around our house to change the tone of what's being said, as has been explained here. One of my favorites goes back to when my oldest was 2. (They're now 9, 6, and 2.) Here it is: "not in the mood." When a contrary-feeling child declares, "I hate this food/toy/book" I replace it with "Oh, you're not in the mood right now for this food/toy/book." Obviously, the kids like and don't like certain things, but when the motive of saying such a thing is just contrary-ness or tired-ness or overwhelmed-ness, and this little
"not in the mood" phrase has soothed many a moment in our home. It also works well if they don't want to hug or hold hands with a little friend or cousin or grandma. "You love __ but you're not in the mood for a hug right now."

It's helped us out! I loved reading other people's ideas.

We have experimented with teaching our kids different words around our house to change the tone of what's being said, as has been explained here. One of my favorites goes back to when my oldest was 2. (They're now 9, 6, and 2.) Here it is: "not in the mood." When a contrary-feeling child declares, "I hate this food/toy/book" I replace it with "Oh, you're not in the mood right now for this food/toy/book." Obviously, the kids are free to like and not like certain things, but sometimes the motive of saying such a thing is just contrary-ness or tired-ness or overwhelmed-ness, and this little "not in the mood" phrase has soothed many a moment in our home. It also works well if they don't want to hug or hold hands with a little friend or cousin or grandma. "You love __ but you're not in the mood to hug right now."

It's helped us out! I loved reading other people's ideas.

What a great discussion! And who am I to disagree with hedra on any word choice?

"Appropriate" has been a big failure around here because the meaning changes based on the context. That's the POINT, yes, but we seem to do much better with more specific guidance.

I love the "I don't care" / "I don't mind" distinction.

Wonderful hack and great discussion! We already use mistaken in our house and I agree that it is wonderful. I can't wait to try the "not in the mood" gambit. I can see it helping in many situations.

This one I got from my dog obedience class - use the word NO very sparingly, as in, the kid is about to enter a life-and-limb-threatening situation. We use "nuh-uh" to communicate when one of our 2 year old twins is doing something they shouldn't (which is maybe 20 times a day) and use NO for when we really, really mean that they need to stop their action IMMEDIATELY. It works. Most of the time.

We use No and Stop, but make an effort to use them in ways that are really 'absolute stops' - in part because we're trying to teach the kids that if one of them says NO or STOP to the other, they're to stop immediately.

Appropriate is definitely conditional, and you have to frame it for conditional situations.

As for the bad=not good, you still end up with the same problem, which is that it is non-specific AND a statement of moral quality. I am bad, I am good. I am not bad, I am not good. It's still vague, still personal.

We prefer to specify exactly what issue is present. Going back to our 'big three rules' thing, Not Safe. Not Respectful. Not Kind. Or in the positive, Safe, Respectful, Kind. 'Don't run in the house, that's not safe' makes much more sense to a child than 'don't run in the house, that's not good.' We also liberally use specific terms like considerate, thoughtful, caring, loving, careful, generous, gentle, polite, and when necessary, rude, dismissive, inconsiderate, etc. I'm having a hard time coming up with others on the negative today, which is probably good news, as it means I've 'caught' them being good much more than 'bad' lately. Anyway, I don't have any trouble reframing from 'bad' to something else, but my goal is twofold - I want them to know it is a behavioral issue (phrasing as 'that was' rather than 'you are' is key), and I want them to be able to categorize the activities clearly. Good and Bad are too big of baskets. Safe, Respectful, Kind are enough division for young kids. My kids by the time they're 3 1/2 have a general grasp of considerate, kind, generous, and polite. They use these words with each other. And while they're figuring out where certain behaviors fall, I'll catch them doing kind, generous, and considerate things with/for each other and then glancing at me - part for approval, but part seems to be directly for definition of the activity. Little word geek scientists, experimenting on mommy. ;)

I like 'not in the mood' very much. We've worked through the 'I don't like that' to get to 'I don't want any right now' (especially for foods), but 'not in the mood' is much more specific to the issue. Thanks for another great one! (We used mistaken yesterday, it was really nice.)

This was a great discussion, and I love how positive these parents are. It's refreshing.

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