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Do words matter?

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Word Choice is Important

I believe that they do.

“Mom, I am so ugly.”

How do you respond?  Please tell me you are not one of those parents that say, “No honey, you are not ugly.”

Kids love to announce that they are not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality as if issuing a verdict. I’m not good at math! I’m not good at volleyball. They also like to throw out “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”  or “I’m not macho”.

At that moment, your parental instinct is to fix the situation.

You say, “Oh yes you are!”

HINT –  This never works.

You have just put your kid in the position of actively defending his or her ineptitude. It is a lose-lose. As a parent ignore the instinct to fix things. We often use a word that works for the moment, but it is not the correct word or not the word that really marks how we really feel.  Yet, this is how our children learn how to express their emotions.

Since we are global nomads and often move, I would use that time to voice how I was feeling and allowed my children to express how the move was making them feel. It was always an interesting time since family members are seldom on the same emotional wavelength when it comes to moving.  Our timing was often off.

Model this for your children when you are in the moving process!  Imagine how much they would learn about emotions.

When you have a child that proudly voices they are dumb, ugly, or unable to do something. Simply add the word “yet”.

Add the “yet”  in a matter-of-fact tone – “I am not good at math”, becomes “You are not good at math yet.”

“I am not good at volleyball” becomes “You are not good at volleyball yet.”

The message is: Of course you are not good ” because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good.

I’m sure some teens roll their eyes when they hear it. But I also think it has an effect because it tells a clear story about the value of effort and struggle, and that story is aligned with the way the brain grows.

Word cards are helpful even at home

When I worked in kindergarten classrooms, I would often make “word family cards”. I would show the kids how we can go from “Beautiful to Ugly” or voice our opinions about a peer’s artwork without hurting our friend’s feeling. We were still being honest with our feelings. If we didn’t really like something we would be comfortable with saying, “Your picture is fine.” Everyone knew this meant it was not beautiful and not ugly.  Kids were always happy to get honest feedback.

I was always proud to hear a five-year-old tell another child that this painting was magnificent!  Some of my students would love to hear that their horror picture was revolting!

beautiful to ugly

What I loved the most was seeing a child sorting out the cards to pick out the exact word he wanted to use. In the “Beautiful to Ugly” card set, I used a pack of old playing cards and glued a word on each card.  I then numbered them in order so the kids could understand how one word might be more in line if what they wanted to say or the next word choice might be better.  Some classes might only need a few cards to understand that word choice is important. Then add more cards later on in the school year.

Build up your child’s word choice

If your child is often stuck on one word.  “Gross”, “Bummer’, “Dork”  or  “Neat” were common during my growing up years. Heard “Oogly” lately? “Sick” or “Flop”?  JOMO seems like a great thing to me.

If you have a hard decision to make or your child is trying to make a decision – PLEASE check out the chart above. It is a helpful emotion and feelings words to give you a way to categorize how you are feeling about that decision. What a great gift to give to your child, time to help them work through how they are feeling. If they don’t want to do it with you…pick out a personal situation that you are going through or have gone through and just show them how you were feeling at that time. Show them this chart and then give them space.  They might appreciate you – even if they never tell you!


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