A Rose By Any Other Name

RoseOne of my most popular entries on this blog was "Full Moon Blues." I decided to re-read it and see whether I could discover the secret sauce that made it so atttractive to so many readers. I'm still not sure I know. 

What I did discover is that I predicted a "step 2" blog post. I had advised you to become more self-aware about what you tell the children in your life, about who and what they are -- the labels you put on them, like shy, wild, hyper, or stubborn.

I suggested you catch yourself before you box them in with a word. In your mind's preview mode, before you speak, notice what comes after, "You are . . . ." Before you speak, ask yourself, "Is he? Is she? Are you sure?" Are you about to label a child with a word better applied to a behavior, rather than a person?

Then, I added that, "Step 2 is to begin practicing neutral descriptions of children's behavior. Adding language about the choices we all have about how to behave is a bonus. But all of that is another blog post for another day." As it turns out, that day is today. As in Romeo and Juliet, when a child is the rose, any other name can smell just as sweet -- and, often, much sweeter! 

Thanks to some early skills training in how to record objective narratives of children's behavior, one of my super powers is no-label language. Over many years of teaching and observing children, I learned to describe their activity in neutral terms, without judgment, without assigning meaning. I taught students to do this and was almost maniacally strict. "No," I'd say, "You can't record that the child smiled. That's an interpretation. What you saw was the corners of his mouth curving up and his eyes crinkling at the outer edges. Write that down." Yeah, I was tough, but they loved me at the University of Maine at Orono Child Study Center and the University of Kansas Regents Center Child Development Laboratory Preschool.

You do not have to shift your language quite so far, my friend! However, I do challenge you to find ways to describe children's activities and actions that only mirror what you see, rather than interpret its meaning. Here are a few examples from the early years:

Age Child Behavior Labeling Language Mirroring Language
Older Infant Hiding face in parent's shoulder when meeting a new person Oh, you're shy! You don't have to be scared of Jane! You are hiding from Jane. You don't know her.
Toddler Bursting into tears when another child takes his/her toy. Be a big boy/girl, now. You have to share! S/he took your toy and you're crying about it.
3-4 years Yells, "You can't come to my birthday party!" at a friend. Now, don't be a little bully! It sounds like you're really angry at Jamal.
5-7 years Pulls away from an invitation to hug Gramma hello. Don't be mean to your Gramma! She loves you! You don't want to hug Gramma right now . . . ?

Adding the "bonus" language of choice empowers children, freeing them to make a choice, rather than comply with a label:

  • You are hiding from Jane. You don't know her. You can decide to look when you're ready . . . we'll just keep chatting.
  • S/he took your toy and you're crying about it. You can tell him/her, "No! My toy!" if you want to. I'll help you get it back.
  • It sounds like you're really angry at Jamal. You can choose to calmly tell him why you're angry. He might learn to be a better friend, if you do that.
  • You don't want to hug Gramma right now . . . ? That's okay. You haven't seen her in a long while. You could shake hands or wave hello for now and hug Gramma when you feel more comfortable.

I imagine that some of you may be sputtering up into resistance on any one or all of these examples. What about learning to share? How can a three-year-old express her anger to a friend? What about Gramma's hurt feelings? Briefly: 1) children learn to share between three and four years of age, not at two; 2) Threes will surprise you with how well they can articulate their indignation, if you engourage them; and 3) Gramma's a grown up and we hope she has some boundaries (if not, please refer her to my Just Be Your S.E.L.F. blog, in which I discuss healthy boundaries in nearly every post). 

In general, the bottom line is that your child's developing self-awareness and concept of himself or herself as a person and as a member of one or more communities, are far more important than a Gramma's hurt feelings or the extra time needed to help your child learn to identify emotions and express them in healthy ways. This is a person you're building -- a unique person -- so, please, don't be too swift to judge who they are by the standards you hold for yourself. 

Just sayin' . . . each rose has its own name. 


The Sparkle Kids! book has begun. If you like this blog, you're going to love my second book, especially written for those who parent and teach children from birth to seven years of age. Find out how to support cihildren's mining of the 7 Childhood Treasures, right from the start! Coming in 2019.


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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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