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Tweak Before you Speak

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Years ago, I knew a family with three boys who were extremely naughty, impudent, and sassy.

In watching their family interact, I was interested to note that their mother usually referred to them, in and out of their presence, as “brats.” And, “brats” they were.

I was a young mother myself and a first-grade teacher, so perhaps my sensitivity to the way adults talk to children came from my training; I was very conscious of the words and phrases I used when speaking to or about children. Consequently, I developed an art of phrasing things to maintain a child’s dignity. 

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There are simple tweaks that adults can choose to improve the way they speak to children. One simple tweak is to tell children what to do, rather than telling them what not to do. 

By saying, “Don’t draw on the walls!” an adult has left a child potentially clueless on what they should do. The tweak, “We draw on paper, not walls!” 

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Here are a few common phrases adults can use with children at home, school, or out and about, with an alternative, kinder way of saying the same thing: 

Don’t hit. We solve problems with words, not hands. 

Don’t yell. We use quiet voices inside. 

Buckle up or we can’t go. We can go as soon as we’re all buckled.I love you and I want you to be safe. 

Another tweak is to give a reason. During my undergraduate years at Brigham Young University, I saw a sign on the lawn as I walked to class that said, “New grass. Please keep off.”

I thought of the many other times in my life that I saw signs reading, “Keep off the grass!” and felt an urge to step on the grass out of minor rebellion. But here was a sign telling me the grass was new, baby grass! How could I step on baby grass? 

Acknowledging a child’s feelings also goes a long way in preserving self-esteem.

Child: I’m hungry.

Adult: Next time eat when I give you food!

Child: I’m hungry.

Adult: I wonder if you’re hungry because you didn’t eat lunch. What could you do when it’s time to eat lunch next time? 

As I watched my thirteen-month-old grandson bend, crinkle, and destroy a small notepad that I had given him as a distraction, my first thought was, “Boy you destroyed that!” 

But I paused and said, “You sure explored that, my curious boy!”

It took less than a second to change the negative tone of my thought into a more considerate and positive comment. 

Learning to talk to children in a nurturing and kinder way is not difficult, but it does take conscious effort and practice. (Serve Daily submission.)

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Guest Contributor
Articles from community members to share their viewpoints, or letter to the editor.

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