Parenting with E-Prime

Over dinner, my son told me about his day and he mentioned he heard an older kid play guitar at school. I asked him if he knew the name of the song. He told me he didn’t. But then he said something that that forced me to put down my knife and fork. He said, “It was hard.” He didn’t mean playing guitar takes skill. He meant he had difficulty in knowing the name of the song.

I realized that—in his five-year old mind—he seemed to think that since I asked him the question so matter-of-factly, he should simply know the name of a song just by hearing it played. So I assured him that such knowledge doesn’t work that way. But more importantly, I wanted him to know that in this kind of situation he could answer with something like, “The boy playing guitar didn’t say the name of the song” instead of saying, “It’s hard.”

Why should you find this important? And what does this have to do with e-prime?

Because when your kid says, “It’s hard,” the voice in his or her head wants your kid to believe they can’t do it. I’m not advocating telling your kids they can do anything. No, far from it. Anything worth doing takes work. But kids who learn to express themselves without using forms of “to-be” will increase their confidence by speaking in a way that takes responsibility for their actions as well as eliminates the notion of remaining locked in a set of circumstances or characterized in an incomplete manner. That means producing sentences without the words is, isn’t, am, are, be, been, were or was.

I realize using e-prime can make adults’ brains pop, so how do you explain this to a kindergartener? I asked my son if he thought math is easy. He said, “Yes, math is easy.” (He gets it from his mother, not me.) I asked him if picking his nose is easy. He laughed and said, “Yes picking his nose is easy.” So I asked him if math and nose picking take the same level of skill. He laughed but I think he got the point. I told him that when you say something is hard, you give it more power than it deserves. And that when you say something is easy, you minimize your talent. But that when you stop saying is, you take control of your thoughts and you communicate them with greater accuracy.

Four examples:

Non e-prime: The math quiz was hard.
In e-prime: I didn’t pass the math quiz but my teacher explained to me what I need to work on before the test next week.

Non e-prime: The math test was easy.
In e-prime: I earned an A on the math test because I learned how to do the problems I got wrong on the quiz.

Non e-prime: That family is poor.
In e-prime: That family just lost everything they owned, their home and even their business, in a fire.

Non e-prime: That other family is rich.
In e-prime: That family, after spending more money on lottery tickets than food each month, just won Powerball and chose $25,079,338.57 in cash instead of the annuity.

If I have anything to give my son, I hope I can teach him to better express himself And, if you have kids, I hope you do, too.

More on e-prime.

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About Robert Moss

I write ads: traditional, non-traditional, interactive, edutainment, story-based, broadcast, and experiential marketing events. Sometimes I write about ads and the business of advertising. Sometimes I write about other stuff. The views expressed here are solely my own and don't reflect the views of my employers. I also published a novel called Descending Memphis that's getting great reviews on Amazon. see http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Memphis-Robert-R-Moss/dp/0692364226
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