Words are amazing. Just a slight tweak and they can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Describing somebody negatively as obsessive and compulsive can just as easily be flipped to communicate their great persistence until success is achieved-a far more positive perception.
Was it crazy that it took Edison 1,001 times to figure out how to make a light bulb work? Without his dogged unwillingness to quit, the path to inventing the light bulb would have gone a different direction. In that light, it’s actually honorable and committed. To others, it could have been an easy way to commit him after the 999th try!
Think about it, your drive, excitement, and belief can easily be turned into a negative if viewed differently by others. So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Can both be true? I never realized the amazing breadth and brilliance of the English language until I was divorced and my 3 year-old responded to the complete change in her environment by kicking, hitting and biting. I shared my heartbreak and frustration with a friend.
We talked about all sorts of answers but soon realized there was only one clear response- get her to communicate with words, not violence. She had every right to be angry, everything she knew had been blown apart. She just needed an appropriate way to express that anger. Isn’t that true for all of us? Life throws us curves we never expect all the time, it’s how we respond that matters. But how do you communicate that to a 3 year old?
Sure you can hit a punching bag, color emotional pictures or use a pillow fight to soften the blow, but how do you teach a three year old to verbalize better? A friend pointed out I first had to learn that ability myself. If I couldn’t find a way to speak the proper words, how could I teach them to my daughter? Most of us have a limited repertoire. Yet the English language is filled with a vast and incredible assortment that can define a similar, but slightly different perspective.
She asked me to voice all the ways I could think of to define “happy” in 60 seconds. Fascinated by an article she’d read earlier it hypothesized that the average adult can usually think of just a few. Yet there are dozens available. I tried it. Sure enough I could only think of ones like, happy, excited, glad, elated. It was pitiful. She, on the other hand, quickly rattled off, happy, glad, elated, and excited. Then, she added cheerful, jovial, content, sated, fulfilled, upbeat, satisfied, exuberant, ecstatic, thrilled, enthralled, comfortable. . .Well, you get the picture.
I was in awe. The words depicted the term, happy, but each gave it a unique voice, drawing it to different places on the spectrum of happy. Many I’d never even thought of as defining a realm of happy, like fulfilled, content, comfortable, and sated. The nuances of each were perfect for relating in a more specific way how that moment impacted our lives. Her point was taken to heart. If I couldn’t find the exact means to represent my feelings, how could I teach my daughter to do this?
How can any relationship truly thrive if we can’t explain what’s inside, what we want, need or find lacking? That’s the beauty of words, they connect us in ways nothing else does. And often in ways nothing else can. For years I honed this skill in a game, asking my daughter if she was happy, sad, elated, excited, unhappy, forlorn, contemplative, angry, upset, worried, serious, silly. . .later I started asking for visuals. Encouraging her to put expressive cues to use as well. At such a young age, the exact word she wanted often failed her so I’d ask if certain ones applied by following up with,“ You look angry or excited or thrilled or sad….. . Are you?” She could then match the word to the emotion and see if it was accurate.
Sometimes she’d stop, put her finger to her mouth, and look into space. You could see the gears turning as she carefully thought through which word applied to her current situation. As she grew older, she’d answer with her own, “No Mommy, I’m disappointed!” My mother later told me I had trained an actress. Perhaps. The drama did appeal to her. But more importantly, I had trained two people to interact better. We’d each take those abilities into other relationships and feel more confident we could express ourselves better. The English language is finite. But I’m amazed at how I never stop learning it’s incredible ability to speak to me.