Needed? Not always.
Overkill? Could be.
Even as I write this I think of the irony of me having to use words to express both my love and frustration with them. If I were cooler I'd put together some awesome visual video without words that could express what I'm trying to get at in this post. But...I'm not THAT awesome. So this post will have to suffice.
In college I was looking for a major, and since there wasn't architecture at the school, I decided to look into a few other fields. First, communications. Advertising and Design seemed somewhat appealing, but when I stopped into the main office I was posed with question: "so you like to write?" My immediate reaction was "No, I hate writing!" And that was the extent of my exploration into the field of communications: so I did business (because I like to organize and somehow thought that fit).
Little did I know I love business writing (which I hadn't taken yet). But more than that, I love the power of getting a clear and simple message to an audience in a well-thought, holistic way. This is the essence of Advertising and Design. I wish I would've talked to someone else that day I stepped into the Communications Department office. But alas...now I get to write about it.
So..what messages are we sending by our Words and the words with which we surround our children; Or on a broader level, the information we receive and place upon our children?
- Is it time-appropriate
- Is it level appropriate
- It is overwhelming and outside their need to know
Experience/Feel First; Speak Second if necessary
Ethan frequently asks "why" about things and I have to remind myself that he doesn't always need an exact or logical answer. In fact, sometimes the more logic we cram into and at our kids, the more it stifles them and the free expression of their personalities or imaginations.
For example, I've learned that when Ethan is building or drawing and tells me to look, that it isn't an invitation to take over and make his tower taller or to praise him on every awesome thing about it. But more importantly is my attention--not words. So I say simply, "wow" or "look at those colors." Something objective and not making him feel less than he is or over-inflating him unessearily to where he expects grand compliments. I just state a simple observation with love and attention. Then he's off to continue playing. The same is true when we read books. BEfore he's seven, he doesn't need me to ask him "what happened" and "what's the moral of the story" and what was your favorite part" all the time. I have found out that kids need experience without judgment and without feeling like they have to have a favorite part or have to know exactly what is happening. I have to let my child be a child. Then, once they get older, or more familiar with a thing, then I can start to help them pick it apart, or ask questions to help them unfold why they like it or how it makes them feel, etc. Analyzing and judging too early leads to missing the experience. Our kids need exposure and experience without words so they can first feel how things are, before they think about it.
Lately Ethan and I have been enjoying wordless books. Looking back at my life I realize that I wasn't a great reader (well, I already knew that...although you'd never guess it now), but I realize that three of my favorite books were Full Moon Soup, The Laugh Book, and The Eleventh Hour. Until this very moment I never put all three together in the same category.
One is silly and doesn't seem at all educational, but is simply a kinda weird cartoon hotel scene that progresses in time with each page turn. And I loved looking for differences and progression of a story with each flip of the page. There was so much going on and I felt an endless explorer in a simple, yet chaotic experience.
Another is full of jokes, riddles, tongue twisters, math puzzles and brain bogglers...etc. This kept me endlessly busy in a variety of fun ways that used my mind and made me both laugh and feel smart (or at least empowered to think about things from different perspectives).
The last is a short, simple story with beautiful and entertaining pictures. But within the story are hidden secrets on every page. There are clues in each picture and hidden codes using patterns and math to figure out clues along the way of solving the ultimate mystery behind the story of who stole the food. This book I returned to again and again to find new clues.
Words with Purpose
What do all these books have in common?
Well, minimal words for one (in some cases none). With each book, if there are words, they generally have a purpose: giving directions for a puzzle, or a sequence to tangle the tongue and bring a smile, or for telling a story simply.
Side note: I use to have the mentality that I needed to fill my kids' heads with books and words. I would gather tons from garage sales and people who were getting rid of them. And we go to the library weekly and devour 10-20 books at a time. But, I remembered reading in a book Simplicity Parenting that, as with toys and any other over-abundance, we need to understand the principle behind why we do/have the things we do/have. And that books and toys can be a great tool to learn how to foster deep and meaningful relationships, as well as to learn and explore "information."
In a society as fast-paced and frenzied as ours, are we encouraging running around and frantic learning, as opposed to cultivating a strong and stable foundation of good principles? Without a strong foundation based in truth and goodness, how can we distinguish the beauty and relevant information from the garbage?
I never would've thought there were so many garbage books that really are either poorly written or not well thought out or just plain not helpful in real educational development, if I hadn't been gathering and exploring all the books I have been. But I admit...I'm less and less enchanted with a majority of books I find now. We should treat books like friends...open to everyone initially, but discerning in which we let into our closest circles to stay. And I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said if a book is worth reading again, then it's worth owning. Either he had lots of books, or a high standard of what really contributed to his library.
I could go on about other compelling reasons to stick to good books and why classics and such are so powerful, but I wont.
Balance: Variety & Depth
Another note about those three childhood books I loved is variety vs. depth of both words and experience. There is value in relearning the same things over and over until you get it down so well it becomes inherent....a part of you. The Laugh Book was meant for variety and exposure, while Full Moon Soup was meant for following a process--analyzing and re-analyzing. Then the Eleventh Hour was meant for learning and following in a variety of ways, but through continual expsoure and deeper and deeper learning, analyzing and understanding of the plot, pictures, words and patterns throughout the entire book. This is a holistic approach. (I love books that are interactive or require/use more than just words.)
Simplified Words: Simplified Behavior
I find the more I talk at my kid, the more I overwhelm them and they shut down. I'm sure you've experienced this at some time or another on one or both ends. But really...a four year old doesn't need to know the inner-workings of my mind and play of emotions. In fact, sometimes I'm sure I don't even want to know everything I'm thinking and feeling.
When talking to kids it's important to simplify and tailor to their needs, age-level and emotional readiness. When my son is throwing a tantrum or whining, I just leave or put him in his room with some soft music on and I tell him to come out when he is calm and ready to talk. No words will help a tantrum in the moment.
Once he is calm he or I find one another and we have "talk time" to turn the experience into a learning moment. We hold hands and ask the question "how do you feel?" We compare how he felt mid-tantrum to how he feels now that he's calm...and then he becomes aware of what happened and how to better approach the situation next time. Talk time is vital. (But so are calming sessions. In fact, I frequently tell Ethan I need a time-out for a few minutes and just leave if I need to. If I don't, I end up lecturing a four-year to the point he actually starts telling me to "stop talking"--which is helpful to realize when I'm talking at him, vs. to him). Kids don't need words half the time.
When do you talk too much or over-explain things?
What do you do in your daily life that doesn't need words?
I think about how grateful my little 2 year is, versus Ethan. He's fine, but I have to remind him: "Are you grateful?" to get him to say "thank you." But my two year old says thankyou whenever anyone gives her anything. The difference? With her I taught her the principle behind "thank you:" Love and caring. And how? Every time I gave her something I'd blow her a kiss. And everytime she gave me something I'd also blow her a kiss. Now she knows that giving and recieving are acts of love...not just words. I'm still working on clarifying that with Ethan, but it's harder now, since I started with him by words, "say thank you."
Are we teaching our children empty words? OR are we teaching principles behind our words?
What about our approach to education? Are we just throwing our kids into a system or curriculum that takes responsibility away from us, to ease our burden? I'm not talking in vs. out of the public education system. I'm talking about when we are with our children in either circumstance. Do we take opportunities to teach our children the principles behind why they should or shouldn't do things, or are we just using force and compulsion to get things done.
The key is discernment. I frequently think of Mary in the New Testament, after the angel Gabriel came to her. The scriptures say she "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." I imagine she wasn't a mother full of words and blame. Did she have and feel them? Most likely to some extent. But, she understood her purpose and the need to be in a place where she could have the spirit and direction to raise her son to his royal heritage. So with that fervor in her heart, she gave him guides he needed to progress at his level and at the right timing. I imagine she didn't overwhelm him with all the details of his future, but rather the beauty of that future and guidance to how his choices either brought his closer to that or took him further away from it.
Now my words feel they are getting long-winded. So I will stop soon. But, here is some food for thought...
- What is the effect of your words on your kids? (which situations are better than others?)
- Do we blame and guilt-trip our kids or even our spouse? (If so, we are not taking responsibility for our words and we are not acknowledging the true principles to work towards: love, peace, joy and the spirit.
- Do you stick to objective statements, free from blame and judgment?
- Do you simply, calmly and openly express how you feel (happy or sad)...with which you can reason together to figure out why as needed? (If not...story time at night is when I make my confessions to Ethan that I'm imperfect and need his help to not yell and such. And I do ask for his help and he in return tells me what he will do to help me (not get three strikes, etc.).
- Are you helping our children understand the spirit and discern good from bad--true from false?
- Are you helping them realize all things either take us closer to become who you are truly meant to become--closer to God--or further away from our true selves?
- Are you open when you fall short and acknowledge you are imperfect and need to try and be better?
So even if we have blame-sessions and yelling, we don't have to be mad at ourselves. We can correct the bad behavior together and use it as a tool to deepen our relationship together and as a director to point us more fully towards repentance and reliance on the Savior. (and isn't that what life is about anyway....shouldn't this be a large part of real education for our children? Building good character and actively using the atonement?)
I'll bet, stripped of all our educational systems, homeschool curriculums, to-do and chore lists, etc., God would be most pleased with us as parents if we were directing our Children towards him by helping them rise to their greatest Divine character and potential. And that is only possible through clearly using and identifying the atonement (change for better) daily in our lives--together as a family. And we can start to improve that process by paying attention to our words.
As moms, we must set the example and keep the deeper details--overabundance of words/information--in our heart. (This is best done by turning over our need for control--and our thoughts/motivations--over to God and asking Him to help us discern what matters most and what timing is appropriate. This is our quest as moms and a great way to access His atonement and spirit daily in our lives.)