Choice of Words

My 10-year-old daughter, Jessie, doesn’t seem to understand the simplest of phrases. She is a strong reader and a good writer, so she obviously has command of the English language. That’s why I’m baffled by her inability to comprehend clear sentences such as:

“Jessie, make your bed.”

“Clean up your room, Jessie”

“You have 10 minutes to get ready before it’s time to leave.”

Doesn’t Jessie understand the language I speak? Of course, she does, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who utters the above requests – often.

But I wonder, why is it that my words don’t have the intended effect?

During a recent game of basketball in the driveway, I used the word “B-ball.” Jessie’s eyes squinted like someone had just scratched a chalkboard with their fingernails.


Apparently, there are times when the words from my mouth don’t settle well on Jessie’s ears. I asked her to share her impression of my language for this column. Here are her thoughts.

    Jessie, Age 10
    I love my dad a lot, but sometimes it can be kind of annoying when he says things like “B-ball” instead of basketball. It’s a little bit embarrassing, too. Plus, isn’t “B-ball” 15th century?

    Another thing he says is, “She was just my little baby, now she’s 10!” He has a point, but it’s still embarrassing. I do it, too. I do it to our dog, Sadie. She is still my little baby. Haven’t we all felt the sadness and joy of “She was just my little baby?” Now let’s get back to Daddy.

Wow! I’m caught off guard by Jessie’s comments that my vocabulary is “kind of annoying” and “a little bit embarrassing.” I know I’m an older dad, but “15th century”? I’ve thought about confining her in the “dungeon” of her messy room until she managed to clean it, but I never stated it.

Perhaps I could say, “Oh, tween daughter, when your clothes disembark from your body, please have them make their way to the hamper in an orderly fashion to await their date with our high-efficiency, front-loaded washing machine.” Is that 21st century language?

Or as I stand by the door awaiting the pleasure of Jessie’s company on the drive to her school, I could inquire, “Wherefore art thou, daughter?” Now I’m talking 15th century.

My attempt at humor would likely not impress Jessie. Yet, on a serious note, I don’t want to have a communication gap with my daughter, and I certainly don’t want my language to embarrass her, especially in front of her friends. So, I’m thankful Jessie expressed her true thoughts. I want her to share her feelings with her mom and me in a respectful tone. Keeping an open path of communication between us will only grow more important over the coming years.

The key point I learned from Jessie’s comments is that my choice of words matters. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I express myself and if there are ways I can do it better. I like to be funny and make people laugh. Perhaps I go too far sometimes, talk too much, or even repeat requests (clean your room) or thoughts (She was just my little baby) too many times. And I know that when I’m stressed, I transmit it to others by talking too much and too fast. So, I’m going to try to be more intentional with my language, though I realize that every word, phrase, or sentence I speak will not please everyone.

I’m reminded of the time I concluded a column with “I kissed my sleeping angel on the forehead.”

“Dad, I don’t like sleeping angel.” My mouth dropped. What’s wrong with sleeping angel? It’s hard for a dad to keep up with the sensibilities of a young daughter, even if he tries. At least, I didn’t say “princess.”

But whether my words are 15th or 21st century, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Valentine’s Day! Share kind words with loved ones and make them feel special. “I love you” is a phrase that can’t be repeated too many times … even to your dog who was just a puppy.

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