I Give My Daughter Words: Modeling the Language of Calm

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by Rebecca Lemar

Just after lunch my daughter asks for dried cherries. She can’t be hungry, she just ate. “No thank you,” I say. This little three year old doesn’t want a “no,” she wants cherries and my answer sends her into a fist pounding, feet stomping bout. I put my hand up and say with a slow tempo (I am a teacher after all), “Excuse me, if you disagree with me you need to say, ‘Mama, I am still a little bit hungry, may I please have some dried cherries.” Believe it or not, this reaches her. She regroups with a couple of exaggerated blinks then repeats my words. “Yes, you may,” I tell her.

This happens a lot between us and I am always surprised that it works. Offering her guidance on language has proven to eliminate the emotional flip out and at the same time empower her. I am teaching her communication, politeness and respect because it’s a beautiful language to speak.

My daughter is spirited. Her emotions and will are passionate, but a tantrum is a poor and unacceptable way to behave. She’s reacting primitively because well, she is three. So, I interpret for her what she’s going through and I offer the right words in the right tone of voice. For example, lately she doesn’t want to leave school when I come to pick her up. She scowls at me and runs away and sometimes fake cries and screams at me, begging kid“I don’t WANT TO LEAVE!” She was neither polite nor respectful. And…that’s not ok. In this circumstance, I give her empathy first. “Are you having so much fun? That’s so great! Are you telling me you might like a little more time? (She nods and I can see her changing her demeanor.) Then you need to say to me, ‘Mama, I need a little more time, I am having so much fun.’” It’s a mouthful, but she gets it and repeats my words. I have given her a track to run on.

If we want respectful children, we teach respect. The language that children hear is the language children use. Since my girl was born fiery and fierce, my first reaction was that I deserved it.   In her early days, she was demanding and inconsolable if she didn’t get her way. For a long time I took her behavior personally, until I came across this quote from the artist Pink :

“I look at Willow and she’s so naughty and fiery, and I’m not going to take any of her fierceness personally — my mom took all of my behavior personally. Everything I did, she thought it was an act of rebellion against her. But it was just me being me. And that’s something I want to post on every mirror in my house: ‘This is not about you!'”

This quote profoundly changed how I viewed my fireball. And I changed. I changed the way I reacted to her.   I made a list of characteristics I wanted to develop in my children and started using these words: Cooperation, consideration, peacefulness, respect, kindness, “your best self”, grateful.

I started pointing out when something was peaceful or beautiful or cooperative or disrespectful: The morning dew, cheerful music, a warm house. It took awhile, but the kids started speaking the same way. I was teaching the power of language and it affected an important trifecta in life: self-control, their view of the world and their choices.

Children need early guidance. Language matters. Language has always mattered. Past, present and future, language is always going to matter. Help your child to choose wisely.

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