Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Purposeful Turns of Phrase

"I suggest you sit down and listen, missy!"
This week's Friday Five focuses on 5 purposeful ways to use language when speaking with children. I'm a big believer in speaking to children thoughtfully, with regard for the larger ramifications of our words. It's a very easy thing to do, and I think it can yield very positive results. Here are some of my favorite examples.

1. Instead of saying "O.K.?" to solicit an affirmation for directions, say, "Understand?" Example: "Get your homework done as soon as we get home, so we won't be late for soccer practice. Understand?" You'd be surprised how often that "O.K." slips out of an adult's mouth. Using the alternative gets you the affirmation you want (yes, the child heard you and understands the instructions) without sounding like you're seeking the child's approval, or asking if the child wants to comply.

2. Don't ask a child "Do you want to...?" if there is no choice. Example: "Do you want to go to Grandma's this weekend?" What if the child says no? It's unfair to ask whether a child wants to do something if you're going to be doing it either way.

3. When you want to recognize something positive a child has done, consider saying "You did it!" rather than "That's great," or "I like how you..." Notice how "You did it" focuses on what the child has accomplished, while the other two phrases focus more on your feelings about what the child did. I learned this from Conscious Discipline (which my school uses). I'm still getting used to it, and my "That's great" addiction has been hard to break, but I'm practicing!

4. This is something our whole family has learned to do, and I found it very helpful in the classroom as well. When it's time for someone to apologize, instead of just saying, "I'm sorry," try saying "I'm sorry for ___. Will you forgive me?" Then wait for the other person to answer. Notice that "I'm sorry" by itself focuses on me, the one who did something wrong, rather than on the other person who was wronged. You can say "I'm sorry" in a snotty way (as any parent or teacher can attest) or add a silent postscript in your mind of "Yeah, I'm sorry you're a jerk." Asking for forgiveness is a different matter. It makes you vulnerable to the other person. It acknowledges the wrong you did and your need for forgiveness in a way that a "sorry" doesn't do. It provides an opening for the other person to speak about the wrong that was done to them. We also think that "I forgive you" is more powerful than the usual response of "It's okay." It may not be okay, but we can still forgive. In our household the adults practice this as well. This is great for anyone (there's that word great again), but as Christians, we especially find this use of language in line with what we want our children to understand about the way we view the world.

5. It's tempting when I'm reaching the end of my proverbial rope to sarcastically say, "I suggest that you ___ right now!" Don't suggest. Just tell the child what you are expecting. It's a stronger statement, less wishy-washy, and less inviting of the child's defiance. This isn't to say the child won't defy you; I find when the sarcasm's welling up in me, my daughter or son is also escalating the behavior that's got me tweaked. Still, the false "suggestion" doesn't help to de-escalate the situation, and we certainly shouldn't be modeling sarcasm. That could come back to bite us!
What are your favorite phrases or most helpful ways to modify your language when speaking to children?

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