My two-year old is now obsessed with the idea that I have to paint her dad’s fingernails pink at my soonest convenience. Why? Because I painted hers and when she showed her dad, he sarcastically commented that he “really wanted his fingernails painted pink.” As I tucked my daughter into bed, she urged me no fewer than six times that “Dada want pink.” The next day, she mentioned it three times.
Not that we need more examples of how children change every, and I mean every, facet of life, but one I have certainly noticed over the years is that I have been forced to lose the sarcasm. My above example is mild–my husband was being more joking than snide–but it demonstrates how important it is that we say what we mean. Children are pointedly honest and literal and assume that their elders are too. Neuropsychologist Katherine P. Rankin discovered that our ability to detect sarcasm resides in the right parahippocampal gyrus and is a form of social cognition that develops throughout childhood. It is a fairly sophisticated social relation because it requires you to perceive the other person’s intent within a remark. Was it a humorous joke meant in good fun? A serious and literal statement? Or an insult?
Sadly, in many social circles it has become the standard. When I commented to my husband several months ago that he makes a lot of sarcastic comments, he came home from work with a startling epiphany. “Almost everything everyone in my office says is sarcastic,” he said, shaking his head. “If we weren’t sarcastic, no one would say anything.” But unfortunately, the type of environment that fosters is one that prevents you from ever being socially at ease.
As I’ve mentioned in many posts before, children learn from our examples. Have you ever heard a kindergartner make a sarcastic remark? I have. It was sad and so out-of-place to hear an innocent-looking child make a snide, cutting remark. It was, I believe, worse than a swear word because it required more forethought. Think about that the next time you want to say something sarcastic.
If you need further evidence that your sarcastic remarks could stand to be streamlined or eliminated, consider these 9 Reasons to Stop Being Sarcastic from Modern Mrs. Darcy:
1. Sarcasm is ambiguous
2. Sarcasm translates poorly
3. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism
4. Sarcasm is cynical
5. Sarcasm is mean
6. Sarcasm is for cowards
7. Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit
8. Sarcasm is a means of judging others
9. Sarcasm wastes words that could be put to better use
As Sharon Jaynes points out in her book The Power of a Woman’s Words, “Our words can spark a child to accomplish great feats, encourage a husband to conquer the world, fan the dying embers of a friend’s broken dreams into flame, encourage a fellow believer to run the race set before her, and draw a lost soul to Christ.” With such power at our disposal, it seems a shame to throw it away on words that don’t move anyone forward.
Studies show that in the average home, ten negative comments are made for every positive one. Also, it takes four positive comments to counteract one negative comment. With that ratio, it’s easy to understand why so many children are discouraged and suffer from a poor self-image. –Sharon Jaynes