The power of words: Part I

When I visit my four-year-old niece in California, one of my “jobs” is to play with her. It might be my main job. While I’m sure she appreciates my making her cheesy toast and helping her get dressed, her loudest request is, “Play with me!”

On my last trip, she had a set of wooden building blocks that I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t initially a go-to toy but, during my stay, it became a favorite.

First we built simple, amorphous structures. Then she wanted to create corrals for her horse figurines (Schleich gets my thumbs-up). Next, we tried to copy the illustration on the box cover. Finally, we were off and running, designing multi-room castles for her hodgepodge menagerie (animals and fun magnetic toys are “in,” dolls are “out,” in her worldview).

One day, we were working away when she began deconstructing our nifty kitchen to stack a blockade in the designated bedroom. “Those are the food and water bins,” I said. “We should keep them as is. Why are you crowding the bedroom?”

My niece has a stubborn streak, so I wasn’t surprised when she continued to do her own thing. Then, softly, liltingly, she intoned, more to herself than to me, “What am I doing wrong? I’m not doing anything wrong.”

It is impossible for me to capture her whispery melody—or my surprise. Yikes. Did I shoot her down? Was I giving her a complex? Am I a bad aunt?

“No, you can build whatever you want,” I backpedaled, even if her questions were impressively rhetorical. “I just thought our kitchen was awesome!”

At her age, I was a silent child; but I’m now notorious for speaking first, thinking second. Maybe it’s makeup time for all the years I held my tongue.

Here, I wished I’d thought twice about the effect of my words (and perhaps about the way I uttered them). Sure, I should ultimately speak my mind to my niece (what is love without honesty?). But I should also understand the power of words.


  1. I have a 4 year old niece too, and it never ceases to amaze me what they can teach us. They’re so perceptive, it’s easy to forget. It’s good to spend time with little guys like this, I think it makes us all more self-aware.


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