As a writer and an English teacher I’m really interested in what we say and how we go about saying it. It’s not just the actual words that fascinate me but also the psychology behind them. I mean, how many times a day do we try to spare someone’s feelings by ‘putting it nicely’?
My seven year old son inspired this blog post just yesterday when he came into the kitchen for breakfast. The cupboard wasn’t empty but neither was it bursting with inspiration, so he settled for a bowl of one particular cereal which must remain nameless for legal reasons. 🙂
Ten minutes later – he’s quite a slow eater – I’d finished my own breakfast and mug of tea so I got up to clear the table and wash the dishes but he still hadn’t finished. I asked him, “Don’t you like the cereal?” His reply, “Well, it’s not my favourite.” Then he wrinkled his little nose. For him, the euphemism spared my feelings but his body language told me far more.
His reply made me laugh because I know that he’s picked that expression up from me. If I’m not fussed on something but don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, I’ll often respond with said phrase instead of the blunt “I don’t like it.”
So I started wondering, at what age do we actually start to consider other people’s feelings?
A friend of mine recently visited with her two year old and I offered her a piece of my lemon drizzle cake – I’m quite proud of it because it’s delicious and SO easy to make. (Contact me if you’d like the recipe!) My own children LOVE the cake but my little visitor did not. She took one bite and said, “Yuck! I don’t like it!” and jumped down from the table without even sparing me a backwards glance. Therefore, at some point between two and seven, it seems that perhaps the sensitivity towards the feelings of others develops.
I’m no child psychologist and no expert and there are probably all kinds of studies done on this topic but what interested me even more was the fact that this sensitivity displayed at seven changes again by the time the teenage years arrive. Pupils in the school where I teach have no qualms about telling a teacher if a lesson is boring or if they don’t like a topic – or teacher! They express their dislikes with precision bluntness both verbally and physically through a variety of facial expressions and sometimes gestures – nothing worse, thank goodness. Now I’m not suggesting that all teenagers are like this, it’s just my experience. As my own children are ten and seven I have yet to enter the years of teen parenting but I sense it approaching…
I’d be interested to hear your ideas about this. Maybe I just have a really polite little boy or maybe the teenagers I teach differ to those in other parts of the world.
Let me know what you think.