Sunday, April 11, 2010

And Versus But

One of the wisest, most useful pieces of advice I have ever heard about talking to young children, especially children with special needs, was to replace the word "but" with the word "and."

I cannot begin to guess how much emotional trauma this has saved me and my little clients over the years. It works like a charm. There is something so magical that happens when you substitute "and" for "but".  It's the difference between an exchange that causes the child to dig in his heels and refuse to budge, versus providing the child the tools to shift gears gracefully.

The children I treat tend to have difficulty with transitions. They always want to just do one more thing, then one more thing after that, when it's time to go. This has the potential to be nerve wracking because I see children back to back on a tight schedule, the clock is ticking, and the next one is waiting, champing at the bit. Consider this scenario:

Child: "Can I have one more turn on the zip line?"

Me: "But it's time to get going."

Child: "Just one!"

Me: "But it's time put on your shoes."

Child: "NO! I want another zip! WAHHH!"

Here's a different version:

Child: "I want to go one more time on the zip line!"

Me: "I know you do. And now it's time to put on shoes, and we can do it all again next time we play together!"

Child: " Just one?"

Me: " And I know it's hard to stop when you're having so much fun. And we can zip next time! And now it's time for shoes and a prize!"


Me: " Time to sit at the table."

Child: "I don't want to do my handwriting."

Me: "But it's time to write."

Child: " I don't care. I don't want to do it."

Me: "But it's part of what you're here to do."

Child: "But I don't WANNA!"


Child: " I don't want to sit at the table."

Me: "And I know you don't like it, and it's time to sit."

Child: "I hate handwriting!"

Me: "And I know it's hard. And the gym is more fun. And now it's time to sit."

Child: {Miraculously sits down and gets to work, pretty much most of the time.}


Child: " Can I have some candy?"

Parent: "But dinner will be soon."

Child: "I'm hungry now!"

Parent: "But you'll spoil your appetite!"

Child: "But I'm hungry NOW!"

Using "and" instead:

Child: "Can I have a snack?"

Parent: "I know you're hungry, and dinner is very soon."

Child: "But I'm hungry right now!"

Parent: "And it's very hard for you to wait when you're hungry, isn't it? And we will have dinner in a few minutes when daddy gets home!" {And by the way, one of the most important lessons we can teach our children is to learn how to manage their frustration.}

This simple change in language eases the friction and causes much less stress. We are acknowledging that the child finds the situation difficult. Using "and" moves the child away from the negative experience of having his request denied, towards something positive to think about.

{Thanks to Colleen Hacker, OT extraordinaire.}


Anonymous said...

Similar to this is the avoidance of showing a child something and then telling the child he or she may not have the thing. For example, I took the knobs off drawers that I did not want my children to play in and avoided opening those drawers in their presence. What they did not see, they did not insist on playing with. I did not need to say, "No, you may not ...," and thus avoided friction with my children.

Glenn Galen said...

This is very good! The word "but" negates and confronts; the word "and" accepts and validates, yet still allows controlling the situation.

I will remember this in my life.

Barbara said...

That is so amazing...I'm going to try it when I speak with my kids...if you acknowledge their feelings, they wont feel cheated out of something...

Anonymous said...

They real key here is the empathy. As a psychotherapist and parent trainer, I taught parents to do this kind of exchange. I didn't specify And vs But, but (heh) I can see that it would help remind the parent to use the empathic statements vs the useless arguments about why something did or did not need to happen.