“Use your words”. How often do we hear that being told to children? Very young children especially? It has become almost a mindless phrase that gets thrown out, with the expectation that our wee ones know what it means, can grasp what is asked of them, and run with it.
How developed are our little people’s vocabs? In their word bank they might have some delightful words, but if they are two and struggling over a toy, can they align their limited vocab with what is happening? Doesn’t that seem like it is asking a lot? We think it is, and that is even when the waters are calm. Add in conflict and heightened emotions, and we’ve massively upped the stakes. Now “use your words” is an even bigger ask. We’re asking them to navigate their big feelings while also putting language to them, all while being able to respond to what is going on with the other child involved.
Think of your own struggles to sometimes find the word you want, and get your message across. We’ve had years to build up our vocab, and we still have difficulty putting our thoughts and feelings into words. We ask so much of our wee people when we expect conflict to be solved verbally at such a young age.
Words are useful, obviously, but it is not their words and word banks we want to rely on, it is ours.
We need to be present for the conflicts happening, or the expression of those big feelings, and put our own language around it.
“Your toy was taken and you’re mad”, “you are so cross you wanted to hit”, “you are both pulling the doll, you both want to use it”.
We’re not robbing the child of the chance of expressing themselves, or taking away their ability to problem solve. In fact, we do best to not add judgment or throw in a solution.
Put your own language to it
We simply state what we see, ‘what is’. We are remaining calm, modelling some words that fit the experience, and offering our presence and the security that comes from our relationship.
Our children will learn in time to use their words, but not because we demand it of them.
They’ll learn with maturity, experience and modelling and guidance from warm hearted adults.
If we stay tuned in and observant, we’ll notice as they take more ownership of sorting things out, and we can let them lead then. It’s so different than throwing them in the deep end when they are unable to do what we’ve asked.
When you hear yourself about to throw out a “use your words”, perhaps stop and imagine for a moment what if your little one replied, “well actually, I feel utterly perplexed”, or said, “the toy was taken from me and I feel aggrieved”. The humour in this may just halt you and remind you to use your own instead!