I have always been fascinated by words. Perhaps that stems in part from the fact that my parents were the children of immigrants and were members of the first generation of their families to speak English. When I was growing up, the discussions at the dinner table often revolved around language, and my own family jokes that the dictionary is our frequent companion at many of our meals. I love to look up words, to discover not only their meaning, but their derivation; we often have good-natured bets in our family about the spelling or pronunciation of relatively unfamiliar words. Sometimes when one dictionary doesn’t support a family member’s opinion, a second or third dictionary will be brought into the conversation!
From the time that our children are very young, we frequently admonish them to use their words. When they cry, we tell them that we can’t help them unless they tell us what they need or want. When they get angry, we remind them to use words rather than hit or, as in the case of one of my children, bite! When they have a dispute with another child or a sibling, we often model the appropriate words to use to resolve the argument. We try to help our children learn the power of words – to express their feelings, to communicate their needs, to solve their problems. Often, on the playground, when I am helping two students resolve a dispute, the child who has been wronged will not consider the incident settled until the other child has uttered those magic words, “I’m sorry.” The magic in those words lies in their power to acknowledge responsibility, and allows both children to move on.
In addition to the power of words used in a positive context, it is important to remind ourselves and our children that words also have a great deal of power when they are used negatively. Despite the old children’s playground rhyme about “sticks and stones,” we all know that words can very often be hurtful. We have very little overt physical violence on our Kensington School playgrounds; disputes are usually much more subtle and often take the form of hurtful words. Our Junior Coaches and Peer Mediators assist students in talking out their disagreements, as do our teachers and yard supervisors. As parents, you can help us by having a conversation with your children about their use of words. Talk to them about the power of their words and explain to them our expectation that the words that they use will be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. As always, thanks for your cooperation.