Help them mind their words

By ap­peal­ing to their dom­i­nant sense, par­ents can help chil­dren avoid mak­ing hurt­ful com­ments.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By PRISCILLA DUNSTAN

IT IS not un­usual for young chil­dren who are learn­ing to ex­press them­selves and to nav­i­gate so­cial be­hav­iour feel the need to com­ment on some­thing they shouldn’t.

We as par­ents of­ten rush to si­lence them and say our apolo­gies in or­der to pre­vent hurt feel­ings, but our child can be left some­what con­fused as to what they have said or done to cause the prob­lem.

If what they have said is not un­true, just in­ap­pro­pri­ate, or some­thing taboo and not to be com­mented on, this can be es­pe­cially hard for a young child to un­der­stand. Of­ten, ap­peal­ing to their dom­i­nant sense both for what they say and also for how they hear, will give them the abil­ity to cre­ate pos­i­tive com­ments rather than the in­ap­pro­pri­ate ones.

For vis­ual chil­dren what they see – and how they are seen – is ex­tremely im­por­tant. My vis­ual brother to this day will com­ment on my weight, not mean­ing to be crit­i­cal, but be­cause he equates some­thing be­ing emo­tion­ally wrong with me if I’m too thin or fat. Ask­ing about my weight is his way of ask­ing if ev­ery­thing is OK in my life.

Vis­ual chil­dren will com­ment, some­times in­ap­pro­pri­ately about what they see, es­pe­cially if some­thing is visu­ally off or new. If you are aware of their mo­ti­va­tions for their com­ments, like “you’re too fat”, “you’re bald” or even odd things like “peo­ple with blue eyes are scary”, you will know how to show them a bet­ter way – by com­ment­ing on vis­ual sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Au­di­tory chil­dren re­mem­ber ev­ery word spo­ken to them and of­ten re­peat things said on the quiet at home, to the per­son in ques­tion. As th­ese chil­dren re­spond to logic and have a keen sense of mean­ing. Teach­ing them how some­thing is said, and the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of when to say it, will go a long way to­ward their de­vel­op­ment of em­pa­thy.

Chang­ing one word in a sen­tence can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween hurt feel­ings and grat­i­tude. By teach­ing your au­di­tory child th­ese tools, they will be able to ex­press them­selves freely, but with sen­si­tiv­ity.

Vis­it­ing one of my clin­ics, a tac­tile boy who was three, be­came very up­set about another boy a year or so older than him who was in a wheel­chair. The thought of not be­ing able to run, jump and wres­tle equated to non-ex­pres­sion. He was adamant that this child was dy­ing and ex­pressed loudly this viewpoint.

Once I ex­plained that ac­tu­ally, he could move a lot, and that he just had wheels for legs, he im­me­di­ately was relieved, ran over to the boy, to race him, and they have been steady friends ever since.

Al­le­vi­at­ing this child’s fears by ex­plain­ing a tac­tile value worked 100 times bet­ter than if his mum was to say, “Don’t say that, it’s not nice.”

Taste and smell chil­dren, of course, are very con­scious of the emo­tions sur­round­ing com­ments, and can end up be­ing more up­set at of­fend­ing some­one than the of­fended per­son. Teach­ing th­ese sen­sory chil­dren how to make amends is very im­por­tant.

They need to know the world doesn’t end be­cause of hurt feel­ings and that there are ways to “take back” in­sen­si­tive com­ments. This will also teach them not to be so sen­si­tive to oth­ers’ in­sen­si­tiv­ity, be­cause every­body some­times says things thought­lessly.

We all say things that can be mis­un­der­stood. Chil­dren are still learn­ing to nav­i­gate the so­cial ma­trix of ex­pres­sion. Ex­plain­ing sit­u­a­tions to them through their dom­i­nant sense will en­able them to un­der­stand more fully the im­pli­ca­tions of ver­bal com­ments and how best to in­ter­nally edit them. — McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Priscilla Dunstan is a child and par­ent­ing be­hav­iour ex­pert and con­sul­tant, and the au­thor of Child Sense.

Show­ing the way: Chil­dren need help un­der­stand­ing that their words can hurt oth­ers. — MCT

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