Monday, March 10, 2014

the power of words

The other day at a playground a young girl, probably about 4, announced she needed to use the facilities. She said it in such a way that led me to believe she was recently toilet trained. Her face showed a mixture of shock, awe, and complete terror that had her caregiver responding in a near panic. But what struck me was the verbal response from her caregiver: "Squeeze your legs together and let's run." How confusing! Squeezing ones legs together will in no way guarantee the activation of the pelvic floor muscles that are used to stop the flow of urine. And how can this girl run while pressing her thighs together? If she tried she'd most likely end up looking like Bert from Mary Poppins doing his penguin dance (view the dance here) and hurrying would be impossible. No wonder this sweet child looked panicked!  She was sure to fail if she tried to follow those instructions! I assume she figured out how to politely disobey and focus on getting to the loo because a few minutes later they returned to the playground in the same clothing.

So why am I sharing this story? Because it reminded me of the power of words. Especially as a parent of small children, I believe how you phrase instructions or requests is important for success. My research, of exactly one child, suggests that children want to please their caregivers (this finding is reinforced by reading books on child development). If the child doesn't understand the words, how can they complete the task? If poor grammar is used, or conflicting actions are asked of them, or they don't understand what the task is, I believe they panic a little. 

Now don't get me wrong, I do not believe this little girl's caregiver was intentionally setting her up to fail. In fact, she looked a little panicked too, as most parents of newly potty-trained kids do when they take their littles out in public for the first few diapers-free weeks. The look on her face suggested she said the first helpful bit of encouragement that came to her as she scanned the area for the closest toilet - which at this park is usually behind a big tree.

So what do I want you to walk away from this blog thinking? Think before you speak. It really is as simple as your mom told you it would be. Is what you're about to say helpful? Is it clear? Loving? Necessary? Kind? Positive? Gentle guidance? What reaction am I hoping to get from my words? Is the reaction helpful? or will be it stained with negativity from the delivery of my thoughts?

And I am saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone reading this. What you say, and how you say it, will bring about results. Be sure your are communicating in a way to ensure you get the results you desire. Yelling will ensure action, but will it be the action you wish, and will it be sprinkled with love or with disdain and fear? Are your instructions clear or are they setting up your listener for confusion and failure?

Personally, I am working to remind myself to encourage positive communication in my house, hoping to foster action and cooperation based on love and mutual respect rather than fear. Doing this means double checking my words and tone when requests aren't fulfilled. Was I unclear? Was I harsh? Did I yell? If I answer yes to any of these questions, I have not acted in line with my goal of loving communication. I must acknowledge my wrongdoings, apologize, and restate my request in a loving manner.

I have noticed when I am dedicated to this practice, my family responds. Manners ooze from my 3-year old, my husband thanks me for cooking, and we all laugh more. We aren't wasting energy yelling about miscommunication. When I'm not dedicated to this personal awareness - such as when I'm sleep deprived by the nightly screaming of a seemingly colicky newborn - negativity slips in through the cracks, requests begin to get ignored and my family members stop being polite to each other.

Be the change you want to see, in this case, in your house

This is just my household. I cannot vouch for this in your household. But I can say that it never hurts anyone to speak with extra love, respect and kindness.

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