Something not to say: "Use your words"




Usually when people say this, they’re ignoring and belitting someone’s actual attempt to communicate.

The person saying this refusing to listen unless communication happens just-so, and at the same is telling someone off for not communicating.

Don’t do that. It’s not right. Even if the person you’re talking to is a little kid. Even though words are good and learning to communicate in words is good.

It’s really, really important to respect communication.

I’m not sure how I feel about this…I have a three-year-old sister who’s having behavioural problems in pre-school, hitting and pushing other kids, and I think it’s important that she learn to be less physically aggressive, to respect other people’s feelings, and to communicate her own feelings in productive ways. Do you not think that’s important? And if you do, how do you think the adults in her life should go about it if they can’t explicitly tell her that hitting people isn’t okay and she needs to use her words?

I think they can absolutely tell her that hitting people is not okay.  That’s about respecting other people’s need to not be hurt and rights to bodily integrity.  She cannot hit other people.

There are pathways to communication other than demanding it be done in words, and hitting people.  Can they work on finding another way for her to communicate, and commit to respecting it when she uses it?

It’s a much harder problem when you’re talking about kids, I think.

We don’t yet know very much about how to treat kids well; even people who try really hard and get it right exceptionally well still end up routinely treating kids in disrespectful and dehumanizing ways. Not because they’re bad people or anything – it’s just that how to consistently treat kids like people is an unsolved problem and a difficult unsolved problem at that.

That said, I think that even now, “use your words” is something people shouldn’t say even to toddlers. Even though in most cases where toddlers are hitting, using words *would* be a better solution and it is important to learn that. Because saying “use your words” doesn’t help a kid to know how to do that, or why it’s important – it mostly just makes the adult feel better.

Also, when two toddlers are fighting, it’s often because words have failed, and they need help solving the problem. If they both want the same toy and can’t figure out anything else to do, telling them to use words isn’t going to help them not fight.

I think if you want to teach a kid to use words in a conflict, the most important thing is to model it, and to add some words to the situation, and use words to help them solve the problem.