Choose Your Words Carefully

by flowers on October 19, 2010 · 30 comments

Words are powerful. They can be a soothing elixir of health and wellness and they can also be deadly weapons. Choosing the words we use, in any and every relationship, very well defines our quality of relationships. We can build confidence and show our support with our words; we can also deeply hurt and wound with them. Words are the language of our thinking mind, a vehicle of expressing the way we feel and the way we see life. Words give away our life perspective. We must be careful with the words we choose.

A Little Story

Today I brought my boys to their yearly well visit. When the nurse checked Solshine’s ears the room was busy and he could not hear the beeps they were asking him to indicate. It was a chaotic visit with all three of my children in tow: Ninu was fussy, Koala was overwhelmed and demanding my full attention and Sol was going with the flow. In the midst of this chaos they wanted to retest Sol’s hearing. Wonderful. Thank you for helping my family.

However, Koala really needed to be with me and he kept talking. As I tried to quiet him the practitioner sternly told us this wasn’t going to work because, “He already flunked the hearing test and he’s going to flunk it again.”

My feathers were already ruffled as I tried to hold my family together and navigate this not-so- small mission of spending the morning at the doctors and getting my little people to agree to be poked and prodded. As I was pushed out the door with my loud three year old I was appalled at their choice of language.

What Does it Mean to Fail?

First of all, you do not fail a hearing test. A hearing test will help assess what level of hearing an individual has so that we can provide resources if they are wanted, needed and/or available. Secondly, even if you choose a perspective where you can “fail” you NEVER tell a six year old at his yearly doctors visit that he failed a test.

This doctor’s visit was a big deal for him. He thought long and hard about questions he might want to ask. He was excited about how much he had grown and I can see that he values participating in our culture which includes visiting a medical office to monitor health and wellness. It was an important milestone for him and I don’t see any place for inferring failure for being exactly who he is–hearing test or not.

Before the door clicked shut I managed to advocate. I asked her to please watch her use of language and told her that I didn’t find it appropriate. Click. The door shut and I hurried to the waiting room to ask my mother-in-law to go in the office so he would have a family member present to advocate for him. For all the hustle and bustle you would have thought we were doing emergency triage, not a hearing test that could be rescheduled if needed.

Why, Yes I am a PollyAnna

I know I can’t protect my child from the great big world, but I ask, why is the great big world determined to judge everything as right versus wrong and pass versus fail. I hear many quotes about letting go of the fear of failure (after all isn’t this what brings our greatest successes), but yet we tell our children that their bodies can fail them. Life is a gift and this gift takes many forms. Sometimes the gift does not hear well or cannot walk. Sometimes the gift cannot speak and sometimes the gift is only here for a short, short time. How could this gift, in any form, possibly indicate failure?

I think it is wise to choose our words very carefully when we speak to children. Actually, I suggest we choose our words just as carefully when we speak to partners, friends, neighbors and even strangers. The quality of our lives depends on the quality of the relationships we keep with the world around us. We can nourish those relationships with wise, empowering words. Please choose carefully.

What would you do if a doctor told your child they “flunked”. Do you think I am overreacting to think health care professionals (or anyone) should be more mindful with the language they use with clients?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber October 19, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I am honestly not sure what I would do, or how I would react. I am pathologically afraid of conflict, and not good on my feet, so I am often at a loss in those situations.

Having said that, though, I do agree that the nurse’s choice of words was totally inappropriate. Way to freak a kid out! I hope that she takes your words to heart, and re-thinks what she says next time.

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Melodie October 19, 2010 at 10:52 pm

She absolutely used inappropriate words. I would be crushed if someone told me my child had flunked a test, even if I knew they were exaggerating. So if I’d be upset then I can only imagine what it would mean to my child. Health care professionals should know better but obviously some just don’t think.

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erin October 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

My eldest came home from public kindergarten telling a tale of how, in PE, some of the kids couldn’t execute the challenging drill and the were told to have failed. IN PE! I don’t honestly know how anyone can justify using such self-defeating language to children, who are innocent learners in this cruel world. You may not be able to protect them for long or very much, but every ounce of careful words chosen go a great distance in using language that lifts up and supports rather than cuts down and defeats–even for adults. The nurse was absolutely inappropriate and you did well to say something while your eldest was within earshot–now he has the reinforced knowledge that you will stick up for him, that he’s worth defending and, frankly, that adults can do and be the wrong thing sometimes. All very valuable lessons from a horrible situation. *hugs*

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Miranda October 20, 2010 at 9:53 am

That is absolutely appalling and part of the reason why we don’t “do” well visits. Doctors are for when you are too sick to fix yourself. They know nothing about whole health. Blargh! (as A would exclaim!) Good for you for standing up for Sol!!

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:33 am

I know Miranda. We actually haven’t gone to a well visit in a while due to the move, changes of insurance AND my hesitancy to navigate the system for no real good reason. I figured it would be good to get one on the books and one of the kids has some stuff going on that I wanted to discuss.

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exhale. return to center. October 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm

good for you hillary!

i’m with amber. major conflict avoider and rarely think of a good response until two hours later when i’m stewing at home. i’m so proud of you for reacting calmly and speaking up immediately.

i have been in a number of situations lately where people have used inappropriate language around my children. and i have to be honest, i have not handled it well.

i’ve cringed and collapsed internally and meekly changed ths subject and then made a point to avoid these people.

not good enough and i know it.

working very hard to re-connect with my strong mama bear voice. i had it when they were little but as they’ve gotten older and our circle has widened and there is SO much new stimulus all the time, i’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed and defeated by trying to “protect them” from hearing things they shouldn’t have to hear.

so thank you, thank you for this. i will be reflecting on these words.

love + light…

~erin

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

Erin and Amber, I lean towards avoiding conflict. I usually like to keep things friendly and moving along even if people aren’t agreeing and such. It actually got so crazy in there (there were some other faux paus being made) that saying something was the LEAST I could do. In retrospect I wish I had advocated sooner and with more confidence. I really should have put the whole situation to a halt and rescheduled.

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Faith October 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Welcome Back Hillary! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and really love getting the perspective another mom! This particular episode is right up my alley! I unfortunately (or not) am usually on the other side of the situation. Its unfortunate that the practitioner was so harsh and abrupt with you and your son. It makes the whole institution of health care seem unprofessional, and makes people second guess those that are trying to provide them with quality health care and health education! Sometimes healthcare professionals forget that although they are caring for people, they are also providing a service. This is my pet peeve, as many doctors and nurses that I work with think they are superior because of their position. They need to remember that they need to be respectful and courteous, which includes choosing their word VERY carefully!! Thanks for another great post!

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:30 am

Thanks Faith. I’m really glad to have you here.

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Kate October 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Good for you, Hillary! I, too, have had to advocate when at Finn’s 2nd “well-baby” visit, the doctor declared him “failing to thrive” simply because the nurse weighed him wrong! We laughed at her as we looked at our bubbly, wide-eyed, very aware 8 week old who insisted on standing up and said “are you KIDDING?”

When we got home we weighed him ourselves and he was 2 pounds heavier than the nurse recorded (she inverted some numbers). But still we had been lectured about “proper breastfeeding procedures” and formula options. I challenged her at every point, and even told her we would be discontinuing the “well-baby” visits as all they did was make us worry when there was nothing to worry about.

They dropped us as patients. I still think about her and wonder if ever she’ll remember me when she has her own kids as says “that pain in the ass may have known what she was talking about!”

I love you! You’ve planted a seed!

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:31 am

Kate, I really look up to the way that you stand up for your family’s health and beliefs with such strength. You’re pretty amazing like that.

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Juliana October 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Good for you! I really do think most people don’t consider how much damage their words can do to other people, especially innocent little people. I would have done something similar as you, I think, because I really cannot tolerate anyone speaking of failure, especially to my daughter. I don’t believe in failure :) … was just writing about this at another blog. To walk around speaking in terms of success and failure sets us up for one or the other … and it becomes a burden, either one!

So, I’m proud of you. You’re such a wonderful mama.

xoxoxo

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:41 am

I love this about you and can almost see and hear how poised you would be as you spoke up. I’ll have to channel some inner Juliana next time we find ourselves in a sticky situation.

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Zanna October 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm

What she said was not just inappropriate, it was ridiculous. I’m glad you spoke to her about it. I’m not sure what I would do… don’t think my 6 yr. old even knows what “flunked” means. Was Sol upset about her words? I’m thinking they might not have the charge for him that they do for you. I’m glad you stuck up for him, and that is so good for him to know, that you will do that.

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flowers October 21, 2010 at 8:43 am

I know, I know Z! It was SO over the top I was just blown away! You know Sol is pretty easy going and he didn’t emerge from the situation upset (though Koala was distraught for the rest of the day). I’m going to talk to him a little bit more about it. I hesitate because I almost wonder if he didn’t “get it” and if that’s the case should I highlight it. I’ll do some mom detective work to see how he perceived the situation.

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katrina October 22, 2010 at 9:50 am

when i had an issue with some of the staff at our family doctor’s office, i wrote and mailed a letter to the doctor describing what had happened and what my problem was with it (and asked that my complaint be kept confidential), and next time i saw her, she told me how much she appreciated that, because she would not have known about it otherwise. in my case, and hopefully most doctors are like this, she really cares about the experience her patients have at her practice, and also feels a responsibility as the “boss” of the office to know what goes on when she’s not around and address issues that arise.

if you think your doctor would understand your problem with the nurse’s language, they might be in a better position to address is with her, and perhaps the nurse would emerge from the situation more conscious of her language with all the children and patients she sees.

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flowers October 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

I have a phone call in to the doctor and am going to stress that I’m not calling to get anyone in trouble, rather wanting to let them know because I don’t think it is aligned with their business/personal philosophies. There were a few other things that happened that need to be addressed.

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katrina October 22, 2010 at 12:08 pm

that’s good. i think it’s important not to be afraid of accountability, and to trust (if you can and do) that 1) your family’s experience there is important to the doctor, and 2) the doctor is an ethical employer, and isn’t going to unfairly get somebody “in trouble”, discipline or fire them over one patient’s comment, but would rather add your experience to the big picture and make a sensible decision about what action to take (if any) based on that. maybe the nurse was having an especially bad day, or has something going on in her personal life, or maybe this is part of a larger pattern of problematic behaviour that they have been noticing, these are things that only they would be aware of.

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flowers October 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I really appreciate your thoughts on this Katrina. You have such a grounded, even-keeled approach. I think I let my emotions (and fear of upsetting somebody) get involved. Thanks for the pep talk. It really helped clarify my next actions.

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Zanna October 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Katrina’s comments remind me of an experience I had… the nurse midwife (med-wife!) at my obstetrician’s office was absolutely horrible to me! I had a terrible headache every time I saw her, and asked to never be scheduled with her… the doc agreed. dh helped stick up for me around this, too. Later, on a message board, I was warning someone about her and was delighted to find out she no longer worked there. I know I wasn’t the only person who spoke with the doc about her, and it made a difference.

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Laurie October 22, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, Hillary. The way you and your family was treated was NOT okay.

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~Tara October 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Every time we poke our head out of our bubble we’re shocked at how the world is still working. It’s limiting, short-sighted and unhappy. And it tends to look at anyone/thing that isn’t as “unrealistic”. Um, it’s very realistic. We’re living proof.

I love that you stood up to that. It may not have seemed to make a difference but you can bet that your words resonated. You planted a seed there.

All that to say that I still need practice choosing my words sometimes. Little reminders like this are good for me to stem the verbal vomit I can be prone to using. It’s why I like to write I think – the backspace-ability. :)

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Lynne November 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I resonate with this post sooo much! I have no want to go see doctors unless my kids head fall off God forbid! Not all doctors treat people this way, of course. I need to choose my words wisely with my kids, too often I am short with my words because of my impatience. I really need to work on it. and they tell me. :)

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Karen November 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Since you’re asking, yes, I think you are overreacting. It’s part of your job as a parent to help your child contextualize what others around say and do. Failing to hear something isn’t a moral failure, but the word failure is still appropriate and accurate. It’s *your* job, not the nurse’s, to make that point. Your child’s hearing may even be fine overall–the situation may have been chaotic and your kiddo may not have been focused on responding to the medical test–but if he wasn’t able respond to the hearing test, he failed to hear or to indicate as much. So be it. It isn’t a judgment of his character or morality; it’s a statement of fact. It’s inappropriate to try to outlaw this word, as if all negative results, all failures, were cause for moral judgment.
You don’t even say that they took one failed test as an indicator of poor hearing–they restaged the test, in less distracting conditions. This doesn’t sound as if they blew off your child’s health or treated any of you cavalierly.

And, yes, I’m a mom too. I’m a mom who values honest, accurate language. I have recipes that are failures, photographs that are failures, jokes that are failures. So I change some conditions and try again.

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flowers December 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I hear you Karen and I appreciate hearing another point of view. I think you are absolutely right about it being my job to contextualize anything that happens to our family. In fact, that’s really the only thing I can control.

I’ve had a lot of time to cool down and think about this situation. It was very intense and there were some other things that happened that I didn’t address, but were a part of me being upset.

Also, part of the reason why I think it’s inappropriate is that this is a child’s doctors office. The whole point is to be child friendly. They could indicate on the chart that he failed and had to re-administer the test. Let’s say I’m at the bank and some exchange happens–I would be expecting to have to contextualize it for my child.

Maybe I’m expecting too much.

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Jazz February 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

I agree with you that the doctor could have used a better choice of words. Where this story throws me for a loop is when you stated, “Koala really needed to be with me and he kept talking…” So I’m guessing Koala was in the room where Sol’s hearing was being retested; so is it safe too assume that the doctor couldn’t administer the test because Koala was being loud? After the doctor used the word “flunked” you got upset and you, “…hurried to the waiting room to ask my mother-in-law to go in the office so he would have a family member present to advocate for him.” Was your mother-in-law at the doctor’s office with you? If so, why would you take Koala in the room that needed to be as quiet as possible to administer a hearing test to Sol? If that was the case that seems inconsiderate of Sol’s well-being and the doctor’s time. I think Koala would have managed to be away from you for 20 minutes or so while you attended to Sol’s well-being.

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flowers February 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

Thanks for weighing in and asking questions Jazz.

My mother-in-law was there to help since I also had the newborn baby with me. I was in the room (holding the baby) while Sol had his check-up. They had already retracted his foreskin *without* permission from either of us so I was not feeling comfortable leaving him alone. Koala was in the waiting room with my mother-in-law. I started to hear him scream and came out to find him pretty out of control. I gave the baby to my mother-in-law and took Koala. At this point I wanted to check back in on Sol b/c he was alone in there. I did not know he was having a hearing test. In fact, they had already tested it at the nurses station and I did not know it had indicated further investigation.

So we came in and sat down and when Koala started talking this is when the NP started using the flunking language and told us we were going to have to leave. No one explained anything to me or asked how we could best handle the situation. (That’s what I would have liked to happen.)

I returned to the waiting room to find the baby crying so I asked my mother-in-law to go in because at this point I was not happy with how he (we) were being treated and I wanted to make sure there was someone there to advocate for him.

This all being said, I am a fierce advocate for having an adult present during ALL medical/dental situations for children. No, I am not a helicopter parent. (Actually, far from it.) There are real life situations (and those of friends) which case me to be undoubtedly dedicated to act as an advocate for my children in health care situations. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post about it b/c it seems too long to put in the comments. I’ve also found that professional health care providers, really good ones, always support parental advocacy. In fact, they encourage it!

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