My shovel was heavy with dirt as I pulled it from the ground. With the small mound of earth came a wriggling little worm. No, not this kind of worm:
It was an earthworm. My 2½ -year-old niece, “E”, exclaimed, “Ooh no, I don’t like him.” She squatted low to the ground next to me - half curious, half dismayed by our new-found slimy friend. “Oh, he’s just an earthworm, honey,” I told her in a bright voice. As an avid gardener, I’ve always had a little love for earthworms because I know the part they play in keeping all life in balance.
“He’s our friend,” I continued. “He lives in the dirt and he keeps the flowers growing. That’s his job.” My niece smiled up at me with sparkling blue eyes and said, “I like him. He’s my favorite.” I felt victorious and heart-melty all at once. We named the worm “Andy” and continued digging holes to plant spring bulbs...all the while E excitedly asked if we could find more worms like Andy.
This story reminds me of how important it is to keep in mind HOW we say things.
Arguably, 93% of our communication is nonverbal - and that includes the tone in which we say things.
Something innocuous said in a certain tone can easily change the message. To prove my point, consider one of my favorite words in the English language: “fine”. How many different ways do you know that we can say this word? I guarantee that everyone reading this “said” it in their minds differently. There’s a “reassuring” fine as in, “Oh, no worries...I’m totally fine.” And then there’s the “dead-pan you’d-better-step-away-from-me” fine, as in: “It’s fine. Forget about it.” See my point?
When E and I encountered our friend Andy, I wanted her to be okay with it. I want her to be unafraid of bugs and dirt because there’s no reason to be scared. That meant - and still means - that when surprises come along that might throw her off balance, it’s important for me to communicate in a calm - even eager - manner. My tone needs to pique her curiosity and excite her to lean into new situations. The same can be said for scenarios of meeting new people and trying new foods. Sure, broccoli is usually a tough sell for a kid, but that won’t stop me from exclaiming how much I love it every time I eat it in front of her.
Words are powerful...the way they are said, though, can be more of a driver in your relationships and conversations than you might think.
Be intentional about your tone so you can get the outcomes you want. As for E and I, we’ll keep finding new adventures to share our excitement over.