Friday, 10 May 2013

Don't think of an orange...oh wait, you just did!

So, I’m sitting in the park last Monday, enjoying a nice, family day out. It’s a public/bank holiday, so the park is crammed with giggling children, delighting in cement-heavy playground paraphernalia. They are swinging, shouting, spinning, sliding (just about anything that begins with “s” it seems), whilst mommy's and daddy's delight in their children's enjoyment; all but one particular father (no, not me).

There I was, watching my little one run around whilst my wife acted as a counter-anchor on the see-saw, a giant Venus-flytrap at the bottom of the slide and a robotic to-and-fro machine behind her on the swings, when I overheard this father talking to his son. The two of them were hitting a shuttlecock to-and-fro and this poor little lad (aged around five) could barely return the shuttle each time his father hit it towards him.  Literally three attempted exchanges after getting started, the father says “I’m bored of this already”. To try and improve things for himself, the father thought it a good idea to stand either side of a miniature picket fence to emulate a net.  A few minutes later the father pipes up – “I thought you’d be better than this considering you were hitting a ball all day yesterday”; never mind the fact that he was smashing the shuttlecock back towards his son with ferocious gusto.  Whilst I thought this was pretty funny (admittedly I did chuckle to myself) it is not the way I would choose to do things.  I am not judging this father’s approach (after all, he was actively involved with his son) and this is not an attempt at a holier-than-thou posting, it is just that this little story made me reflect on the way that I might talk to my daughter and what implications it may have.

Language is so important in our attempt to develop our little ones; they literally seem to soak up each and every word we say.  My wife and I always tried to avoid using the word "no" whilst our little girl was learning to talk.  We would wrack our brains to come up with alternatives to the negative response, primarily because we did not want her growing up saying no to everything.

Here is a little example:  Don't think of an orange!  Oh wait, you just did.  Now put this in the context of instructing your little one - "Don't run across the road".  What is your child imagining?  Running across the road of course, and then only the fact that (s)he must not do it.  How about "hold my hand whilst we cross the road"?  Now what are they imagining?  Yip, holding your hand.  The way we phrase things creates a mental image based on cognitive experience and schemata (mental associations); our children receive verbal information which then impacts on how they see things around them.  This is purely based on images which they create in their mind's eye from the information they have received from spoken words which they might have payed attention to.

Now don't even think about going to sit on the couch to put your feet up and enjoy your favorite beverage :)  

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