By Jennifer Mullins
“Use your words” is becoming a very common phrase around our house. As my 2-year-old son heads into a new phase of social expectations, my husband and I are keenly aware that words, not whines, are more readily accepted.
Far beyond that social stage of a 2-year-old child, many of us have learned the art of being social. I wondered if I and other adults in my child’s world are really setting a good example. How many of us use our words?
My husband recently made a mistake in his career that ended up costing him a promotion. He was 60 seconds late returning from a break during his testing session. The Air Force can be very strict about many things and this was one of them. He made his plea to supervisors and commanders, arguing that it was only 60 seconds. (Never mind that the test proctor had been 45 minutes late earlier that morning.) In the end he lost his privilege to test for the next rank and was asked to wait another year.
He could have whined, yelled or even become non-productive in his work. Instead, he squared his shoulders and said, “I made a mistake and I will deal with the consequences.”
How many of us would have done that? I’d be willing to venture that not many of us would. And why should we? National examples such as former President Clinton don’t even have to ‘fess up to their mistakes. It is so much easier to whine, yell, become non-compliant or in some cases, simply deny, deny, deny.
Be aware, though, that your children are watching. They see us when we lie because we are backed into a corner, they hear us gripe that there is homework to do and they watch as we use words to avoid responsibility.
I’ll be the first to admit I am guilty on all charges. In fact, the most common phrase to slip from my lips lately is, “Whaaauuut now!?!” This is not the example I was looking for to help my child and quite frankly, this type of whining accomplished nothing.
It is important for our children to see the rewards of taking actions and saying how we feel. But we need to be careful how we express our feelings. A whine is not only a sound, it can also be a collection of negative thoughts put into words — thoughts that do not necessarily need to be expressed or serve a purpose.
Consider the American reaction if President Bush had sat back in his chair and said, “Why me?” when notified of the terrorist attacks. We would have been plenty more afraid for our safety and economic welfare than we are today.
This does not mean the president did not at some point think this. I wouldn’t even blame him for thinking it. Somewhere amid the disaster of that day, it would certainly have crossed my mind. The idea here is this fleeting moment of self-pity existed only across his mind, not out of his mouth for the nation to hear and digest. Instead, we saw a man who we knew was struggling with emotions and doing his job despite them.
As a parent, your words and actions affect your children much the way our president’s behavior affects the nation. You can be certain that nation and child will follow the example set by their leader when it comes to attitude. There is a well-known clich that shadows my sentiments: “If mommy isn’t happy, nobody is happy.”
Our children are learning how to behave in society from us as their parents and as their elders. We are their teachers even when we think their little ears aren’t paying attention. We are professors in the art of being social.
I’d like to invite you to comment on my columns. If you have any constructive criticism, general comments or topic suggestions please do not hesitate to e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.