Putting It Nicely


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.


3 thoughts on “Putting It Nicely

  1. Thanks for sending my the link to this on Twitter, Molly! It’s an interesting topic. In fact, just the other day I was talking to a friend about how some people even at our age (I’m 22) seem to have a much less refined ‘filter’ than others. He often says things as they are, without the kind of sensitivity to feelings that I prefer to consider. At the same time, he seems to feel this is being more ‘genuine’ and is beating around the bush less, so is a positive thing. Neither of us really knew which approach was better.

    • Hi, thanks so much for commenting! Do you think it could be a gender thing too? My husband tends to speak his mind far more than I do. I often attribute this to bravery but I guess it could be more to with his belief that it’s better to be open. Being totally ‘open’ and speaking your mind can lead to conflict though and some people deal with that better than others. Perhaps it all lies in our upbringing. It’s probably why I enjoy writing – I get the chance to ‘filter’ before it reaches anyone else! 🙂

      • I’m not sure if it’s a gender thing, as I’ve seen other women do it too. I do think it perhaps has something to do with the specific relationship you have with a person. I can think of friends and past boyfriends who I was probably sometimes overly-honest with. With other people, I think much more carefully before I speak. I think that the difference between the young children, as in your post, and adults is that we have the freedom (or rather the ability) to make a conscious decision to be more or less sensitive, whereas the young children haven’t developed the awareness of it yet. Just some initial ideas; I, like you, have no specific psychological knowledge to draw on!

Hey there! What are your thoughts? Molly xxx

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