I grew up in a family that thought about definitions. As a six year old choosing her own book in a bookstore for the first time, I purchased a pocket dictionary. It is not surprising that my children also are sensitive to definitions. (is it genetic? personality? or just that I am always defining things for them?)
There’s a down side to a skill in precision, and its one that I deal with regularly. Words can easily become tools for deceit, in the guise of truth telling. Words can also allow a child to disobey when they follow what you have said precisely, to the letter, into the ditch.
I am tempted to apologize for being imprecise, to attempt to be more precise, 100 percent of the time. I’m learning this approach will quickly lead a mother to insanity. Actually, I don’t have to apologize for being imprecise at all. We use imprecision constantly, and our children must learn to deal with it, and to respond in a spirit-filled way.
Usually our discussions happen after the fact. The most important thing I have learned to say is this: “If you understand what mom (or someone else) MEANS, then it is wrong to ignore the meaning and follow the WORDS.”
For example, I’ve asked a child to stop tapping a sister, only to start blowing on her. When I’ve told him to stop blowing on her, then I’ve watched him start trying to kiss her. Yes, I do think it is appropriate to say, “Stop annoying your sister.” But my children need to understand that when I say, “Stop tapping your sister,” I am also intending him to stop annoying her. Some of my children understand this easily. Some need more direct instruction. At first, there was genuine confusion (but I did obey you!). Gradually, we have explained that our instruction is often more broad than our words. It is a part of life.
Sometimes our children do not understand the broader instruction underlying what I have said. That takes maturity and experience, and a lot of explanations from mom. But they need to understand that when they do know the underlying meaning, they are responsible for it.
Basically, what I’m learning is that I am having more success showing my children to examine the broader meaning behind words, rather than attempting to make my speech 100 percent precise. I want them to learn to be more comfortable with varying levels of precision.
Have you wrestled with precision? What have you done to respond? Tomorrow I’ll talk about precision again.