Help them mind their words

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

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

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.

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