Sunday, May 27, 2007

Overheard at the Food Co-op

Young nouvelle-hippie woman: I've been trying to teach my son not to say "I want," but to say "I choose" instead. So if he wants a cookie, or whatever, he has to say "I choose a cookie." I just think, you know, he shouldn't want things.

There is something very deeply strange about this. It reminds me a bit of the experiments my own kids have proposed in case we ever get a new baby: "Let's have a baby and only talk to him backwards" or "Let's have a baby and tell him lots of lies." I'm pretty sure that calling desire "choosing" won't change the fact that it's still desire, but what will it do? Will it teach the child that words have a strange and dangerous power? (Actually, they do.) Will it teach him that there is shame in something as simple as wanting a cookie, or just that his mother is a controlling freak?

As I write this I remember that when my kids used to say, "I want something to eat," I would say, "Really!" or "Do you, now?" and wait for them to say, "May I have something to eat?" or "Please get me a snack," before I'd take out the cookies. I thought I was teaching them to be polite, but maybe that's not all that different from what the food-coop woman was doing: teaching that direct language is offensive to some ears. Hmm, food (organic, cooperatively owned) for thought.

2 comments:

zoe said...

Ha,ha. I've got bigger child communication fish to fry presently. Luca is obsessed with threats of the "if you do this, I'll poop on your head" variety at the moment. That kind of direct language is more troublesome to me. Mostly because I'm finding it hard to behave like the resposible mature person I'm masquerading as.

Andrew Gelman said...

I've tried to avoid the use of the quick "No" (as a general-purpose shorthand for Stop, or You can't have that, or It's not going to happen, etc.). The motivation is that No is such a power-word, I didn't want the kids getting into the habit of saying No to us all the time.

On the plus side, I trained Zacky to understand that "I can't wait" really means "I have to wait but I don't want to." Also, when he wants something (typically a toy or a sweet) in a store but (because of my horrible controlling nature) I don't want him to have it, I say something like, "That's so pretty--you can look at it whenever you come into the store." My proudest moment was a few weeks ago when we were walking by a store and Zacky said, "Can I go in and look but not buy anything?"