As a speech-language pathologist, I find myself giving choices...A LOT.
"Do you want to play with the farm OR trains today?"
"Do you want to jump OR do you want to lie down?"
"Do you want the purple car OR the red car?"
What you’ll find children with communication challenges will do, is point, approximate and answer, or unfortunately...become frustrated.
Why is that?
Well, because sometimes the answer is “BOTH!”
I have found this concept to be important because when we get into higher level skills, such as navigating social situations, emotions, sensations...it isn’t always as clear cut as “either, or”
As humans, we have the capacity to feel an abundance of emotions and sensations...leading to exponential possibilities of communicative responses.
We can feel happy AND sad, scared AND brave, grateful AND exhausted, nervous AND calm.
I experience this in my own life all of the time,
“How are you feeling about that big move?"
“How are things going?”
“What are your next steps?”
Well….the truth is, it’s probably more than one thing. So why do we attempt to fit ourselves into checkboxes, when really there is no category because it’s “both, and” not “either, or”. And more importantly, why are we teaching our kids to choose a box?
The problem is we are teaching our kids that they can only have access to one thing at a time, whether that be tangible things like toys, or much more abstract things like emotions. This is creating a pressure to choose the “right” thing each way, every time...when in reality, there is no “right” way to feel, right?
Our emotions are not exclusive. Our wants and needs are not exclusive. And feeling “happy” is not the cure all to the multitude of things that we are going through as a collective, and likely individually right now. In this time of uncertainty, we are feeling SO MANY THINGS...and this goes for our kids too. For many of us, our work looks different, our homes look different, our routines and day-to-day lives have completely changed.
But here’s the thing, peace and fear can live together. Just like everything else, these things are not exclusive. Our fear does not destroy our peace, it defines it.
So this is me, inviting you to move from “OR” to “AND”, from “EITHER” to “BOTH”.
To help our kids get unstuck, and embrace all that they are, let's teach them they can be happy AND sad, win AND lose, have the answers AND still be learning, be good AND bad, all at once.
Model this language at home by using the words “and” and “both” when describing emotions and sensations. Especially during calmer moments, or during play, because we learn best when we are regulated and engaged.
- While, playing pretend with figures or cars show your child that characters can feel more than one emotion, for example: “Wow, that made me feel excited AND nervous.” “I’m feeling warm and embarrassed” “I’m hot and frustrated” “My car can go fast AND slow.”
- You can build the power of both into your descriptive language when talking at mealtimes to describe the different sensations of eating, think rich adjectives that describe textures and temperatures “Yum, I like crunchy” “This feels cold and wet”.
- Or apply this concept during book reading to talk about the multitude of emotions and sensations that characters could be experiencing throughout stories, make smart guesses together about what they could be thinking AND feeling.
And, most of all, embrace this concept in your own life...for you are the first and best teacher for your children. As you embrace the power of “both”, your child will be sure to follow.
Erica Eckel is a speech-language pathologist at Kid Connections Therapy in Severna Park, Maryland. She provides teletherapy to clients in Maryland, Michigan, and California.