What?!

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Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction

I’d like to think of myself as an articulate person. I believe when I speak, my words ring clear as a bell. I use language that is easily comprehended by my charges (except when I slip in fancy words to help them increase their vocabulary). Why then do I spend so much of my day repeating myself, time after time, responding to, “What?” after “What?”? After seven years as a full-time nanny, compounding some seven million or more, “What?”s, I’ve come to the conclusion as to where they come from, and how to tame them.
Kiddos ask, “What?” almost as a reflex, especially in school age, I’ve found. They are usually immersed in something when I give an instruction or ask them a question, so even though they have heard me, it takes their brain a little while to stop the task at hand, and register what I’ve said/asked. The understanding of the “What?” wonder, however, doesn’t make it any less annoying. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can deal with the redundancy of “What?” in two ways:

1) Take it head-on, Jules (Samuel L.Jackson in Pulp Fiction) style, screaming in the kiddos’ faces, hollerin’ in a haranguing of a lifetime, scarring them for life, possibly losing my nannying position in the process (no one wants a verbally abusive nanny! And rightly so!)

or…

2) I can do my best to create a pattern of dialogue that will lead them to less “What?”s in the future:
Miss Cheryl: “When you finish that page, please come on into the dining room. Lunch is served!”
Kiddo: “What?”
Miss Cheryl: “Honey, what did I just say?”
(Wait a few beats for them to mull this over, comprehend my words and respond. Much more often than not, they know what I said.)
Kiddo: “To go in for lunch after I finish this page.”
Miss Cheryl: “ ‘That’s a Bingo!’(another Tarantino reference!) I’ll see you after that page.”
(If the kiddo doesn’t recall what I’ve said, I’m more than happy to repeat myself, though I do feel compelled to ask him/her to use the more polite phrase, “Excuse me?” as opposed to the abrupt, “What?”)

I prefer the latter of the two techniques and I find that, especially with the older kiddos, having them think back to what I said —and realizing that they knew what I said all along— incites a pride in them to not need to be reminded in the future. (They feel as if they are being babied when they realize they are more than capable!) This dialogue will help them with recall and conversational skills in the future. And to think, before they “What?”



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