When my daughter was younger, she loved the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. We built up nearly the whole series which I used to read to her every night at bedtime, and I loved reliving my own childhood obsession with these stories. For those who don’t know, Enid Blyton was a very prolific children’s author, popular in the fifties and sixties, hated by teachers at the time for the lack of literary merit, and now for the complete lack of political correctness. Some of her values have caused much merriment amongst my children, especially the roles she assigns boys and girls, but it’s not all bad – truth, fairness and not dropping litter were obviously values she wanted to instill in her young readers. The Famous Five are four children, two boys, two girls and a dog, who have a series of exciting and unlikely adventures which usually end up with the finding of some long-lost treasure, to the confoundment of the local constabulary.
As I read the stories to my daughter, I began to notice that the oldest child in the group, a boy called Julian, had more natural authority than I did. I hoped my daughter wouldn’t notice and compare his clear, fair and confident authority with my often muddled swings from reasonableness to anger. As I read, I began to notice how he managed to express his authority in a way which the other children willingly accepted, and as I like to get my language tips wherever I can find them, I began, surreptitiously, to use his phrases to my children, with magical effect. Finally I enlisted my oldest son’s help in combing through the whole series of books for ‘Julian phrases’ which I then built in to my communication skills programme.
Here’s how he does it. He uses lots of phrases such as ‘Let’s…’ and ‘Shall we..?’ but when the situation is non-negotiable he simply says ‘We will…’ or ‘I will… and you will…’ So simple! ‘We will get our coats on now!’ As I began to use phrases like this in the non-negotiable areas of family life, like getting out of the house in the morning or bedtimes, I noticed that it seemed to make my children happy. Maybe because with all the orders, requests, veiled threats and long-winded explanations children usually have to negotiate, simply telling them what’s coming next is a relief. Nothing to compute. It makes those day-to-day routines painless for everyone.
Over the last three weeks my daughter (now twelve) and my fifteen-year-old son have been at home poorly, and I have spent time once again reading Famous Five books to them. I then moved on to my favourite childhood Enid Blyton book ‘The Secret Island’, in which four children (two girls, two boys…) run away and live on an island together. I was thrilled to discover that the oldest boy, Jack, surpasses even Julian in his natural authority. After finishing the book, I was compelled to go through it and write down examples of ‘Jack phrases’, so here they are:
Language Tips from Jack
‘We will pick the bracken there, and put it in the sun to dry.’
‘We’ll do no more today. We are all tired.’
‘We’ll have our meal now, and a quiet read afterwards, then to bed early.’
‘Now we’ll have something to eat and a cup of milk to drink, and off to bed we’ll go.’
‘We’ll make lots of little baskets today, and then we will arrange the mushrooms and strawberries neatly in them’
‘I’ll read tonight and you shall read tomorrow night Nora.’
‘We’ll take turns all day long.’
As I read out loud to my children, I was amused to realise that the confident 1950’s schoolboy tone of voice I used to voice Jack’s character is not a million miles from the tone I use myself with my children when making these kind of statements…