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Sep 22

Reflections on Language

This morning, my son got lost in a crowd. It wasn’t a particularly large crowd, and it was at his school, so I wasn’t particularly worried. But I knew he’d be upset.

When I found him, he was with someone he knew, ready to cry. He gave me a big hug and let the tears loose. Someone said to him, “You’re a big guy. You’ll be okay,” and handed him some tissues. Someone else said, “You were scared. It’s okay to be scared sometimes.” Another person said, “Let’s go to your classroom.”

That was a lot of advice for my five-year-old at once! All three adults wanted to comfort my son. Each person offered him a different option for how he might react to the situation.

The first person wanted my son to see himself as a person capable of handling the situation, to recognize his inner strength. The next person wanted my son to recognize his feelings, and assured him that being scared was an okay reaction to the situation. The third person wanted my son to move on, to put his reaction behind him and get on with his day.

One of our favorite books for thinking about how the words we use influence children

Any of these options were fine for my son. And they were also options I use with children in my kevutzah (group). As a teacher, I may use language to help children see themselves through a different lens. At other times, I want children to slow down and recognize what they’re feeling. And still other times, I ask children to set aside their feelings for the sake of the group. It’s one of the great challenges of being a teacher: choosing the right language for the moment.

As a parent, does the language you use with your child typically fall into one of these three categories? As the new year approaches, perhaps try varying your language: offer your child a new vision of him/herself (“My, what a great helper you are, carrying your plate over!”), or take the time to name feelings (“Are you sad?” or, “Talk to me about what you’re feeling right now,” which, I know, is not the easiest thing to do when you’re stressed about getting dinner on the table!), or acknowledge your child’s feelings even as you ask him/her to move on (“Yes, when your sister calls you ‘stupid’ you dofeel angry. Now let’s get your shoes on so we get to school in time to play before morning meeting.”).

After reading Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks, the children decided to practice using kind language. They thought using kind language was something that turns a house into a home, and we wanted to make Beit Nitzanim our home.

Please let us know what you try and how it went. All of us at the Enrichment Center are working on being conscious of the language we use with children, and we’re searching for clues that help us know when to use what type of language. We’d love to learn from your experience.

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