Something about the word “favorite” makes me feel uneasy. Many children’s activity books ask about their favorite color, favorite animal, favorite food.
Does it mean I have to choose one color? Do I absolutely have to pick a favorite animal?
Well, I kept wondering about this and then I heard “favorite” being used in regard to toys in my RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes. And I realized that labeling something as a child’s favorite is a decision made for the child. Perhaps a child prefers one toy over another, but every day, the toys were on equal footing and the child has the option to play with a different toy. However, once we label a toy as their “favorite,” does that not place an expectation on them to always play with that toy?
For example, one little girl Mira loved to play with two purses. At the beginning of class, Mira would find them and put them over her shoulders. She liked to take them off and put them back on, open them and look inside. One day, she came to class and didn’t pick them up. The parents in the class and I were tempted to ask: “Where are your favorite purses?” However, I caught myself in time and suggested to not bring it up — to give Mira a choice to move on to something different if she wanted to. Although she still played with those purses in the future, I felt like at that moment, we supported her freedom to choose.
In my other class, Sam loved the yellow school bus. Sometimes he would even take it from other another child’s hands. Despite his love for the school bus, I suggested not to refer to the bus as his favorite toy and instead speak about it more objectively and honestly. I felt that labeling the bus as his favorite would encourage him to take the bus into his possession in every single class simply because it was expected. So one day, when Sam arrived to class, all three buses were occupied by other children. Sam looked around and looking at each child and said: “no bus”, “no bus”, “no bus”. I said, “You are right, there are no buses available at the moment…” And paused. Sam looked around. This time, he chose to play with the boxes instead. He had the freedom to make a different choice.
Although certainly not the most important part of parenting and I don’t wish to sound obsessive over how we speak, as I know it can sound daunting, I do believe that a certain choice of words that avoid judgment can really help deliver a message more precisely without labels and assumptions.