Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist and author, eloquently stated: “Language comes so naturally to us that it is easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is.”
We often hear parents saying to their little ones “use your words”. What they usually mean is ‘tell us what you want without hurting, whining, pointing, or getting frustrated’. Words are both powerful and empowering and they are what separates humans from all other living things. We should appreciate this magnificent gift and encourage our children to do so as well.
Encouraging our children to use their words can be especially helpful in fostering positive relationships within families and among siblings in particular. Not only should we encourage our children to use their words, but we should model using our words in our own moments of anger and frustration. According to Mazlish and Faber in the book, Siblings without Rivalry, it is our job as parents to teach our children to express anger without causing damage.
Below are a few scenarios where we can encourage kind words rather than fighting:
Rather than playing tug-of-war with a toy, say “I’m playing with this now. I’ll tell you when I’m finished and then you can have a turn.” or “Can I please have it when you’re done?”
Instead of name-calling or using physical force, say “I don’t like it when…” or “Please stop”
Tell each other how you feel – “I feel angry when you grab a toy.”
Initially, we will need to feed these exact words into our children so that they will know precisely what to say. Over time, they will either remember these specific words and sentences or insert their own words and ideas. It is a good idea to grab a pen and paper and brainstorm together with your children about what they can say or do in difficult situations and post these ideas on the fridge for immediate reference.
Additionally, it is essential to provide our children with a variety of feelings words in order to help them recognize and identify all different types of feelings. We can do so by using feelings words in our own everyday vocabulary so that our children can see these feelings in action and put a name to them.
Here is a list of feelings words to get started:
For more tips on sibling harmony, check out the book, Siblings without Rivalary, by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish or email firstname.lastname@example.org.