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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How to Not Insult a Child- guest post by Sarah MacLaughlin

(Sarah MacLaughlin is the award-winning author of What Not To Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, which I reviewed last week. Take it away, Sarah!)



We don’t mean to insult children. Sometimes we just forget how smart they are. I always aim to talk to your children like they are regular people. Wait, right, they are regular people! If you use your normal adult vocabulary (barring any overly intellectual, technical, or mature terms) kids get great exposure to our language and will always be learning new words. If you think that something you said went over their head, you can explain or just ask, “Do you know what that means? Did you want me to tell you?” That’s respectful, not insulting. Some more suggestions for keeping your communication with young ones considerate and kind:

Allow kids to keep their dignity intact. When a child has a big emotional outburst or falls apart and “loses it” in some way, they may make a small effort to retain their dignity. If you don’t know that, you could perceive this act as rebellious or defiant. They may say something like, “I didn’t like that,” or “You hurt my feelings.” My son will often make a request in a tone that not exactly my favorite—“I need some juice.”—I refrain from commenting on his tone or asking for a “please.” This is the perfect time to let it be and move on.

Don’t be condescending. When children surprise us with their unruly behavior, we should take stock. Not necessarily of them, but of ourselves. Much undesired behavior is developmentally appropriate, meaning that it sure is annoying, but it’s to be expected. Stop yourself from saying things like, “This is so unlike you,” even if it is.

Set aside sarcasm, euphemisms, and rhetorical questions. These usually go right over young kids’ heads. Explaining them can keep you on your toes: “You’re right, I didn’t sound grateful when I told that man, ‘Thanks a lot.’ He wasn’t helpful and I was being sarcastic, saying the opposite of what I meant. I didn’t really mean ‘Thank you.’” The amazing thing is that kids eventually do absorb many of the hidden meanings in our confusing language.

Don’t refer to yourself in the third person. Saying Mommy instead of I or me is an odd habit we easily fall into, one that can be confusing for a child. Use proper pronouns even if your child doesn’t. They will actually learn more quickly this way.

Skip the baby talk. It’s our natural tendency to talk to young children in language that mirrors their own. The occasional “I’ll kiss your ouchie” or, “It’s time for night-night,” is fine, but in general try to use proper words and a normal tone. “Does my wittle baby need a baba?” doesn’t help a toddler learn the English language.

Don’t lie. Even I am guilty of telling kids that the toys store is closed when it isn’t, but as far as the big stuff goes, we do this to protect children, mostly from information we think they shouldn’t know or can’t handle. When important facts are hidden, children sense it and tend to imagine terrible things—usually worse than the actual situation. Adding to the harm, a child might worry that the reason for not telling her is that she is the cause of the trouble. Remember that young children are naturally self-centered.

Many people tend to speak to a group—of children or adults—with the lowest common denominator in mind. I say it's better to speak to the highest common denominator. If you have created an environment of safety and respect, one where there truly are no stupid questions, this will not be a problem.

I'd love to hear what you think!


Special Giveaway!
Please comment on this post about ways you keep your communication considerate and kind to your children, so that you can enter to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you're the winner!



Other stops during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah's blog here: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html.

Also, be sure to enter at Sarah's site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch. Winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th. Go here to enter: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html


About The Author
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Currently, Sarah works as a licensed social worker with foster families at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine. 

She also teaches parenting classes and consults with families. In addition, Sarah serves on the board of Birth Roots, a perinatal resource center, and writes the "Parenting Toolbox" column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family.

As reflected in her book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, Sarah considers it her life's work to promote happy, well-adjusted people by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today.

In a busy modern life, while Sarah juggles her son, her job, her husband, her family, and time for herself, she's also aiming for: mindful parenting, meaningful work, joyful marriage, connected family, and radical self-care. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site: http://www.saramaclaughlin.com.

23 comments:

  1. Great advice - I've found that my son picks up more than I could have imagined. Lesson: Never say anything that you wouldn't want repeated :D

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    1. Exactly, Suzi!! I can assure you that early childhood teachers hear some hilarious things at news time on the mat!

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    2. That is such a great point. I am planning a blog post where I out myself about all the things my son has repeated back!

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    4. I have to say the reverse is also true... make sure you say what you want them to say - your pleases, thank yous, excuse mes, please passes, etc

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    5. Suzi, I wrote a whole blog post about exactly this point! You are so right! http://auntannieschildcare.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/helping-your-children-hear-praise-and.html

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  2. I love talking to and with kids. I learn so much. Two key things I always try to do. 1. Listen to what they say; and remember whatever info they give you. Recalling a pet's name or some other fact later in the day (or weeks later) shows a child that you do listen to what he says. 2. Answer every question. As clearly and concisely as possible. The child will ask for more info if he wants it. But usually a short sentence or two will suffice. By answering questions regularly (especially those "silly" ones), you can keep the communication open for the BIG questions.

    This is a great article. I'm going to look for that book.

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    1. So true, Scott! You have to treat kids with respect if you want them to trust you. The book is available on Amazon.

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    2. Thank you! What an insightful point you make about repeating back information to a child so they know you we're really listening!

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  3. You made some really good points. It's scary to even think that all these are being practiced days in and days out while parents are not consciously knowing that they are semi-harming the child.

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  4. I totally get your point. It is important to often speak and understand how these children interpret the messages we deliver. This encourages parents to be an effective communicator. Listening is also a valuable tool. Making eye contact, and nodding every once in a while, makes children feel that you are really listening. You could gather information and understand the whole situation your child is getting involved in and how they’re feeling about it. It’s fun talking with kids, and they love it when people pay attention.

    Madlenka Lamon

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    1. Madlenka, you have won the e-book. Your link seems to take me to a business site without your name on it- can you please contact beth@bethbarany.com to claim your prize? Thank you!

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  5. AAAAAND the winner of the free e-book "What Not to Say" is... Madlenka Lamon! Congratulations Madlenka!

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    1. Very insightful! I think striving to be a better parent is the first step in bringing up happier, better adjusted individuals. As mother to a two and a half year old boy, I must confess I have insulted his intelligence on many occassions. However, having a VERY expressive and verbal child helps- when faced with a, "why did you look at the clock?" every time you check the time, you have no choice but to respect that and give a satisfactory answer :)
      I've also devised this little role play game for the two of us, where he gets to be mommy and I get to be him. The conversation that flows is the best feedback I could ever get about how I generally sound to him. Needless to say, it is pretty unflattering but so helpful!

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    2. Anonymous, I LOVE your role play game! What an awesome way to get feedback.

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    3. I'm so glad you liked the idea. And it's great fun too. Some of the things my little guy remembers and hits me back with, just blow me away! And like I said, it helps me so much in trying to be a better, calmer mom.

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  6. I agree about kids being naturally self-centered, and I think every parent must understand what it actually means. We should understand their behavior, whether good or bad, but not to the point where we should just let them get away with their faults. They will never learn that way, and they may develop even more bad behavior. The best way to avoid that is to listen, understand, talk to them in a nice way, and become a good example to them.

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    1. Exactly, Chalice. Narrating the undesirable behaviour works really well as a starting point- just describing what you see without judgment. That gives them the chance to stop before they feel like they're backed into a corner. Being a good example is absolutely vital. I can always tell which children's parents show no manners themselves at home!

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  7. Talking and playing with children is fun. However, we should not forget that they are naïve. They are just starting to learn, and they will most likely copy whatever we say or show to them. Thus, being the person that molds them, we should always be in our best behavior, so our children will grow and become well-mannered and responsible individuals.

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  8. Kids are the most sensible, sensitive, and genuine people on Earth. They’re beautiful, and they need to be treated what they just deserve. Ultimately, the key is to understand them. Yes, you’re right, Madlenka. Attention means so much to a kid. :)

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  9. Clearly that's exactly what I refer to a lovely blog article! Do you this domain for personal goals exclusively or you actually have it profit wise?

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    1. This blog is a community service but there is a 'donate' button if anyone feels inspired to help me out along the way- I am currently unemployed due to cancer.

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  10. I wish you had carried it on! great blog, great content and you have a knack for writing

    Childcare blog 

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