What You Say and What Your Children Hear
- Thursday, October 24, 2002
Ever wonder what happens when your young children respond in unexpected ways to the words you say?
It's because the words they hear differ from the emotional messages they receive at the same time. Consequently, they feel mixed up, so their responses are mixed up. These responses stem from how they feel when others talk to them, as in this example:
A family of three generations - a 13-month-old girl, her mother, and her grandmother - waited in the doctor's office. When the little girl went to her mother for a hug, the mom cuddled her and said, "You're such a good girl." When she went to her grandmother's lap, the woman said, "You're a mean little stinker." While saying this, the grandmother tweaked the little girl's nose.
Imagine what the child heard and internalized from these two incidents: "I'm good. I am mean. I stink." She would link all of these words with both warm hugs and painful nose tweaks. As she develops her own "internal parent" using the words she hears, the true message can easily get mixed up. That's why it's important to be honest and kind in all of your communications - both with your children and with others they see you interact with.
Feeling Before Reasoning
"Honest" communication means making your words congruent with your feelings. Realize that children "feel" out situations before they are able to "reason" through them. That's why:
* If you are not completely honest, children feel it.
* If you try to smooth things over, they know it.
* If you speak in hushed tones, they wonder what's wrong.
* If you gossip, they assume you are hiding something.
* If your words don't match your facial expression, children feel the lack of congruence. As a result, they may become unsure of what you say and choose to not listen. Or they may think they understand when they really don't.
Like all young children, I also translated every word said by the adults I cared about into underlying feelings.
If they said, "She eats like a bird," I translated it into, "I peck at my food. Something's wrong."
If they said, "The wind will blow her away," I heard, "I'm too skinny."
If they said, "She has Aunt Edna's nose," I translated it as, "My nose is big and ugly." That's why it critical to remember that young children first feel all interactions before they apply their ability to use language.
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