“It's nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it's only a manner of speaking.” - Gilles Deleuze
How do you communicate with an adult? Are you one to speak flippantly and with brevity? Or, do you take time to flesh out your ideas with further explanation and examples to defend your point? Are you more communicative or less communicative?
Do you speak in the same way with children?
We often communicate using manners of speaking — idioms, figures of speech that are used as a statement even if it is not completely accurate, ie., “Break a leg!” — and we use this vernacular without thinking, often unknowingly or unwillingly, in casual conversation every day.
But when we all live in a world of manners of speaking, we unintentionally create figurative, abstract worlds for our children. What does this mean? How does this limit their thinking, their sense of exploration, their desire to question, and our ability to help support them in their efforts?
What is a manner of speaking?
Manners of speaking are readily incorporated into our language. They become integral parts of our lives, modes of expression and characteristic styles of speaking that we so easily employ.
“Her life began the day she graduated from college,” we recite poetically. Even though her life began over 20 years ago, we do mean what we say, so we say it anyway.
“Hang in there!” we say to a friend amid a busy week. “I’m feeling under the weather and will not be able to attend!” we use when we’re tired or unwell. “Just get it out of your system!” we’ll even exclaim to the child who still has all the energy before bedtime — not even realizing, does he even know what that means?
These manners of speaking are not spoken in malice. We speak merely out of convenience, often deployed to accelerate our thoughts or explain something quickly. Yet, how does this affect our children?
Communicating with empathy
When we talk among adults, it’s easy for us to speak over the conversation. We gloss over what we’re trying to say, because, “You know what I mean, right?” And on we go. We don’t feel the need to clarify our words, or to speak slowly, or to break down a thought, and who has time for that anyway?
But, what happens when we speak to the child in this way, too?
Children hang on our words, usually long after the conversation has ended, whereas we’ve moved on to dinner and baths without any reflection. We won’t think twice about how we said this or whether we articulated that, but our children will. Of course, they will scrutinize our words, combing for the truth and their own understanding in it.
They ask us, “Why? Why? Why?” in conversation, because they want to make sense of it all. It’s easy for us to glaze over a thought, but when the stories are new to the child, they can’t move on until they feel comfortable sharing this new information themselves. And information like that won’t be digested if it’s abstract. The child needs to understand our world concretely and plainly, as it is, and it’s often difficult for the adult to afford our children the time to get there.
More often than not, we’re hardly aware of the figurative language we use. These casual forms of speech aren’t intended to pacify or allay, only to soothe and propitiate the listener. We’re so accustomed and comforted by these expressions in speech that we don’t even give them a second thought. We mean well! Rarely, however, do we pause and reflect on how this might affect others, how it might ultimately affect ourselves, and how it affects our children.
What do manners of speaking mean for parenting? How do our habits of thought affect our children? Why don’t we have the courage or the wherewithal to actually say what we mean?
If there’s any lesson to be learned from Montessori, it is that we should speak plainly, we should say what we mean, and we should explain things in an easily accessible way, emphasizing the facts, without communicating figuratively.
Manners of speaking limit growth — they limit becoming — and they limit our children from exploring and discovering, for themselves, what is possible. But, when we lift the veil of formulaic language, and just speak, children surprise us with how much they take in. They listen keenly, with a valiant desire to learn from you.