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  • Writer's pictureM Atkinson

Collateral speech

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

I'm waiting for my appointment at the GP. A mum steps out of the doctors' room with her estimated 2-year-old. She is pushing the pram while the boy walks towards the exit.

She is talking to him, describing what they have done and are going to do. So far so good, until the next step is to be taken.

The mother talks some more and then, very kindly, asks the boy: 'Do you want to put your coat on?'. Maybe you can guess the reply to this question: 'No!'.

Is there really a choice, or is the mum being nice in the way that she wants to get ready to go outside? In this situation there proved to be no choice, it was cold outside and, the question was not a question but a command. This is what happened next:

Mum: 'Yes, you will put your coat on.'

Boy: 'No! I don't want to.'

Mum: 'Do you want to go to grandma?'

Boy: 'Yes'.

Mum: 'Then you should put your coat on.'

Boy: 'No!'

Mum: 'Ok, I'll leave here without you then.'

Boy: Runs to mother and puts coat on.

Mum and boy leave.

I wanted to share this because I see it all too often. A simple but mandatory thing (putting on a coat) becomes a battle ground when it comes to speech, up to the point where the child gets threatened to be left alone in the doctors waiting room. Of course, we all know the mother would've never left the boy alone. What happens though, when the boy finds out at a later age that this threat (these kinds of threats) holds no merit?

Now what is my point?

Prevention of situations in where parents feel the need to use their authority in a threatening manner. The boy needs to put his coat on, because it is cold outside. So, don't give him a fake choice by kindly asking if he would like to put his coat on. Tell him that now it is time to put his coat on because you're going outside. No choice. That might not sound very kind, but I dare to bet that the boy wouldn't think twice about the coat and the whole conversation and the negativity that came with it would have been avoided.

So yes, being aware of the way we speak to our children and knowing when to ask something or tell them something is important in the way we interact with them.

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