Word choice

When I was a counselor in training for a summer camp, the leader instructed us to be careful with our choice of words when talking to the kids. She said that if you overused words when asking them to do something, they’d lose their urgency and not be effective when you really needed them to be.

For instance, we were counseled not to tell the kids they need to hurry up, but rather to ask them if they would please. In example, they need to step away from that cliff immediately. They do not really need to pick up their clothes, but wouldn’t it sure be nice/helpful/easier if they did? Use need only when action is truly important, and it will be that much more effective when employed. Same thing goes for have to. Have takes away the choice and implies necessity.

Similarly, I learned the difference between using could/can and would. For instance in most scenarios, I try not to ask, can you help me with this task? Can enquires into the ability of the person to do said task. Would asks if they would be willing. Subtle difference. Most people probably do not consciously notice when one is used over the other. I still try to follow this advice in my conversations both at work or home, especially when dealing with my husband and son. Once I got used to speaking in this fashion, it came naturally.

I subscribe to a parenting list that sends out an inspirational message each day called The Daily Groove. A recent message spoke on a similar subject, using the words always and never to describe your child’s behavior.

“The power of these words is in their ability to finalize — to make something seem “written in stone” — and to establish a strong expectation. For example: He always throws a tantrum when we leave.”

Does he truly do it every single time? Most likely, no. It continues:

“Remember, you tend to get what you expect, so when you hear yourself say such things, rephrase them using softer words that leave open the possibility of improvement: Sometimes he throws a tantrum when we leave. (Maybe this time he’ll be fine.) “

There are similar entries archived under the category Word Watch, for don’t, should/shouldn’t, my and because. Don’t tends to get ignored. Should implies obligation. My emphasizes scarcity and connotes possessiveness, sometimes unintended, and because is a justification that gives power to an external condition. All make a strong case for paying attention to choice of words, especially when dealing with kids.

As I try to be more mindful in all my daily actions, word choice is just another thing thrown in the mix. However, I pay attention to this because I choose to, not because I need to or have to, but because I want to.