Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Don't Be a Hater


Having conversations with a three-year-old is the perfect lesson in mastering the non-sequitur.  Addie is incredibly verbal most of the time, and is learning phrases and terms at an alarming rate (she's currently mastering the word "copycat" and gets it right about 90% of the time, for example.  The other 10% are exemplars of hilarity.  Glad the malaprops gene got passed down).

For example, we had this incredibly deep, and incredibly confusing conversation in the car today: 

"Mom, what does 'hate' mean?"

"The word 'hate,' you mean?"

"Yeah, 'hate!'"

"Well, you've used that word before, right?  It means you really, really don't like something.  But I guess I don't think it's a good word to use very much."

"Why not?"

"Because if you use it to talk about somebody else, it can really hurt their feelings.  I don't know.  I guess I just think there are better words to use."

"Like, 'please?'  And 'thank you'?  Those are good words, right?"

"Uh, yeah.  Those are great words."

"And 'HEY!'  I really like that word.  It's a good word.  'HEY!'" 

"Yep.  'Hey' is a good word, too."

I mean, there are so many levels of brilliance and utter confusion here.  Addie has used the word hate before ("I HATE ranch dressing!").  So I like that she was thinking more about the word today, and about what it means, and that we got a chance to talk about it.

But as my reply suggested, I was confused about how to respond.  I use the word hate now and then, probably--though not usually about ranch dressing--and she's probably heard it at school, too.  Used to discuss, say, fungal foot infections or centipedes, it's probably a decent verb to employ.  But three-year-olds experiment so much, and I guess I don't want Addie to go around talking about how much she hates so-and-so, and I definitely don't want her to say she hates me, her sister, or her dad.  I want to communicate in some way the idea that "hate" as a concept, as a motivator of violent action or hurtful language, is not okay.  I want her to be able to feel angry and express that anger, but hate is such a loaded term.  You see how I overanalyze these things, and then provide long, convoluted answers to my toddler.  No wonder she's confused.

Then, though, all this became moot as the conversation took the turn into good words, which for Addie means manners.  We're talking a lot about saying please and thank-you at the moment, mostly because her demands have, like, tripled in the last few weeks, and we're tired of being ordered around.  Apparently we want to be ordered around politely.

All of this could have led into an interesting discussion about what we mean by "good" words, or about manners.  But no.  We veered into the land of words that Addie likes, and apparently "hey" is at the top of that list.  I could also add "last day" (which precedes every sentence and is meant as a substitute for "yesterday."  Addie has no sense of time yet, but an incredible memory nonetheless) and "just kidding!" which Addie is saying now every time she says or does something she knows she's going to get in trouble for.  "Addie, did you knock over your glass of juice on purpose?" I'll say, threateningly.  "Just kidding, mom!"  And she'll scamper off into the other room, laughing maniacally.

And just this week, Nolie started saying "no" (in baby, this is "nuh").  And we're off.  Adventures in Language Acquisition Land ride now boarding.  Tickets please.  Fasten your seatbelts, gentlemen.  It's going to be a bumpy ride.

1 comment:

  1. Oh for the love of words. Don't worry if she does end up (over)using the word, "hate." Kids don't grasp abstract ideas, like the ones you are talking about in language, until around age eleven. Not saying she won't get that it is a "no-no" to over use that word or that it is a cruel word, but she may not get the depth of it until much later. Anyhoo... great post!