January 6, 2014

Six Year Olds, Semantics and the SMC

This year, one thing I resolve to get better at is choosing language that sounds less frightening to Henry.  Much of the time, I just say what I'm thinking.  I think that is a good quality for the most part-- in a transparent, honest, what-you-see-is-what-you get sort of way.  It's not so great when a six year old is listening.  Especially, when the six year old is a wise and sensitive soul.  

I need to stop announcing that I took a wrong turn, that I don't know where we're going, that I can't find the museum/restaurant/park. To me, these situations are fleeting...but to Henry's young mind these statements produce anxiety.  

I may be thinking,  I took the wrong street, where can I turn around and double back?
but I say,  I took the wrong street.  
or I'll think, We are late for school again, Mrs. J  will not be happy but you'll be at your desk before the class says the Pledge of Allegiance.  
but I say, We are late for school again, Mrs. J will not be happy.

The phrase that I really want to ban is "we can't afford that".  Oh, there are lots of things we genuinely can't afford but typically when I say that, what I really mean is I'm not buying that made-in-China junk when we have three just like it at home that you never play with or I'm not buying that sugar-laden, artificially flavored gunk that is going to rot your teeth and keep you up until 10 pm.  I say "we can't afford that" but Henry hears our family lacks money.  Since I've told him that I go to work to get money so we can buy the things we need, he thinks I need to work more.  But he's really enjoyed this two week break, staying home with Mommy.  He's worried.  He's conflicted.  He's only six.  

This all came to a head the other night when he announced, "I wish we had a dad in our family."  Of course, this is the phrase SMCs dread but for which most of us are well-prepared.  It's important that I hear and respect Henry's wishes for a different family dynamic but it's also important to let him know that I don't feel our family is incomplete.  The topic doesn't come up often, so when it does I want to keep the conversation flowing--certain that Henry is telling me everything he wants me to hear.

"Why do you wish we had a dad in our family?"
"So he could give us money and you wouldn't have to work.  You could stay home with me everyday."

It makes sense as to why this is on his mind now, at the end of a long winter staycation.  I assured Henry that our family has enough money for a house, a car, our schools and our groceries.  What I really wanted to say is I don't know how I'm going to pay the vet bill; I can't believe I owe the IRS all that money because of a mistake on line 21; and I wish public schools were better so I didn't have tuition bills up the wazzoo.  But I didn't.  I'm learning.

From now on, when I don't want to buy something, go out to eat or order a new Disney app, I'll say "It's not a good value."   Henry understands what that means because he's so good at math.  I'm also going to start bringing up the concept of wants vs. needs.  Gently.  Slowly.  Kids his age can't easily separate the two and lecturing won't help.  

I want Henry to understand that our family is okay just the way it is but I need him to always be honest about his feelings.  

It's not going to be easy, listening before I speak, especially as our schedule ramps up again.  Nothing truly important is easy, is it?  

But it is a good value.


  1. Very good post. I am very conscious of how I speak & the words I use especially now because Elena isn't able to talk & express herself verbally so I need to be sure I am very clear both as an example & so she isn't worrying about something I said that she misinterpreted.

  2. Great post. sR is already so in tune with expressions and she takes them literally. I was driving and she suddenly announced "mommy, you went through the stop sign" which of course I did...after I had stopped. I am guilty of saying we can't afford this too.

  3. WOw that is great new way of saying that Good Value! Interesting that he associated a Dad with being able to support a family and you staying home.. Yep calm reinforcement is a good way of handling that.. YOU are such a Good Parent! Hugs to YOU!

  4. Sounds like you have been having some pretty important conversations, and handling them very well!