The Nuance of Language

As anyone knows who has a talking child, as they learn language and speak more clearly and concisely, the nuances of the meaning of words can go right over their head. Realizing they don’t understand what you mean or are taking you way too literally – is usually pretty funny.

What’s tricky is when it’s funny when they are supposed to be in trouble. Like two days ago.

DD2 is walking all over the place and seems to fancy herself a mountain goat – climbing everything and anything – constantly.

The fast development of DD2s gross motor skills is a profound and deep annoyance to DD1. And having 2 younger sisters of my own, I get that. I understand DD1. I get why she’s pissed when her pesky little sister comes tearing through her tea party, walking like a drunk surrendering to the cops, with both her hands straight up in the air and wobbly, uncertain, overly large and wide steps. I get it.

But I’m not the big sister in this scenario and so I can’t totally let on that I get it.

And the thing is, DD1 gets her back by pummeling her the second I leave the room. Poor DD2 is usually bleeding out of her mouth and her nose from a fall, just about every other day, and 80% of the time, her older sister has a role in it.

So two days ago, I leave the room for one second, only to hear screaming. I know exactly what’s happened but of course I can’t come screaming into the room, yelling at DD1, in case it was just an innocent fall. I ask, DD1 claims her sister was climbing on the seat (coincidentally the seat that DD1 was sitting in), and she fell. She assures me she had no part in it.

What can you do. I know she did. Of course she did, which is why DD2 is bleeding out her mouth and it’s gushing out her nose, but without having seen it, I can’t punish DD1.

Once DD2 settles, I am certain DD1 was to blame because she was unusually attentive, giving her hugs and kisses, offering her favorite toys to cuddle with….the sure signs of a guilty 4-year-old conscious. Yet when asked, she continues to deny her role in the fall.

A few minutes later, she confesses she did push her, she gets in trouble, blah blah.

So here’s when the language part comes in. Later that day, I asked her if she felt bad for pushing her sister and making her bleed.

She looks at me, gives it a quick thought, and says very matter of factly “No, I don’t feel bad.”

I say “really? you pushed your sister, she was bleeding everywhere and cried for a long time. you don’t feel bad about that?”

“No” she says without a second thought, “I feel fine.”


She is thinking does she physically feel bad? Well no – she physically feels fine. She’s probably thinking “Idiot, my sister is the one that was bleeding, I’m sure SHE felt bad.”

Yet you can see how this is confusing to a little one. Feeling bad physically is different from feeling bad – guilty – so really, what I should have asked her is if she felt “sorry” for pushing her sister. Right? But the nuances of words and their meanings, is something we take for granted, being 20 (c’est vrai, i’m only in my 20s) years into speaking the language.

This realization also assured me and quelled any fleeting fears I might have had that I was raising a sociopath. Until I later asked her if she felt sorry for hurting her sister.

“No, I don’t feel sorry.”

Was the response.

Ok then.  Can I find a second meaning for feeling sorry?

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