Download your free chalkboard printable NICE WORDS before mean words, at the bottom.
Somewhere at some point, somehow our kids learn to say things like “I’m not going to be your friend” or “I hate ____” and plethora of other disdainful phrases. They develop snarky retorts and speak to their siblings with venom in their words. They develop “I can do it better than you” in their tone of voice. We’ve seen the movies and read the posts. There are an immeasurable number of negative things to say to people.
Our girls are young, they are six and eight years old. Since they could talk to each other, actually even before, we started encouraging and assisting them in their verbal battles with this:
Nice words before mean words.
In short, this means when you need or want something, you speak with kindness. Don’t grab toys from each other, ask. Don’t yell before speaking. If your sister is irritating you, use nice words first in an attempt to redirect or stop her, then try something with more stern intention.
We spend a lot of time recasting what our girls say to each other, teaching them how to navigate the use of language. In a previous post I mentioned sharing is an everyday battle, Raise Kids that Share, this is the same. We are tough on our kids now about these things so they will grow up into decent human beings.
We started them very early with a means of communication by teaching them some sign language. Kids who can communicate wants and needs before their sounds and words fully develop are less frustrated. One of these signs was “sorry”. This allowed us to hand-over-hand help our youngest daughter apologize before she was one and also allowed our older daughter to say sorry with a gesture when she found it too tough to use the words.
Nice words before mean words is akin to “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”. Hopefully, this twist will inspire more gentle tones of voice and kind words than silence. You are going to read my examples and say “No kid will speak like this”. You are right. On their own, they will not. I do not expect my girls to repeat verbatim what I say. I hope to inspire them to choose their own words carefully, because they leave a lasting impression.
You can’t just add please.
“Gimme that, please”, in my book, just doesn’t cut it. Adding some pleases and thank yous isn’t genuine. I picture those words being added with a look of disdain. I’m not intending for your message to be lost by “nice-ing it up”, I would just prefer you speak to others they way you wish to be spoken to; respectfully.
Let’s start with when you have an older child who “knows how to do everything”. When our youngest would do something new she would excitedly try to show her sister or us. Instantly, the oldest would tell her “No, that’s not right” or “Do it like this”. Many times I had to ask her to use encouraging words. As the eldest child she was able to try to show off at anything she wanted without being told she was doing it wrong. Over time, she understood. You can hear her catch herself when this situation comes up and rather than being critical, she offers praise first. “You’re almost there! Let me help.” or “Good job, look how I do it”.
Saying “I hate” to something other people like is so common with kids. When they get to different ages especially. Different clothes or TV shows, they grow up and change. It is supposed to happen and it’s okay. You just can’t tell your sister “I hate Dora, it’s for babies”. Perhaps you could say “I remember watching that when I was younger”.
“STOP IT!”, how many times do you hear that as a parent? Too many to count. Yelling stop it should be your reaction when you have asked someone to stop and they are not listening. My youngest ALWAYS needs to hug my oldest as soon as she sees her after school. It’s not a bad thing, but if the recipient, isn’t ready for a hug, she always yells “STOP IT”. She’s been in school for 4 years. I told you this was an everyday struggle. BUT IT’S WORTH IT! One glorious day I’ll hear (and have heard actually) my older daughter say “I’m not ready yet”.
“Leave me alone”. I completely, 100%, condone needing time alone, some silence to think or calm down and relax. I disagree with how you go about getting your time alone. This happens. One wants to play and the other doesn’t. It’s easy, just state gently “I need some time by myself.”
Two more things before I go…
- First, ignoring. Ignoring is rude. If someone is talking to you, you need to answer. Look their way, nod or shake your head. I remind my girls of this at least twice a week. Someone is inevitably in a mood and needs to be told “answer your sister”. You don’t have to engage in a conversation, sometimes we don’t feel like it, but you may not just turn yourself away.
- Second, “I won’t be your friend if you don’t…”. In our house this phrase is unacceptable. Since I first heard our oldest use this when she came home from kindergarten four years ago, I have not heard either of our kids say this again. Sisters are sisters for life. Your sister is your first, last and best friend. You may not like what is happening in the moment, but we do not speak that way to people. True friends also don’t buy you things to make something better or negotiate your friendship on any kind of terms. I was tough about this phrase and I am glad.
Recasting and helping your children comment and request with kindness is a daily chore when they are younger. We have been at it for six years since our youngest was born. Do we have to navigate conversations for them daily anymore? No. They need more help when they are tired or excited or upset, but most days, they will catch themselves.I am not asking them to change their message, just pass it along with more graciously. Parenting consciously so your kids will be decent human beings is hard, but worth every moment invested.