Code words

About a decade ago, my husband and I used to eat with our preschool aged daughters in our company lunchroom. On occasion, one or more of the girls would misbehave in a manner that demanded immediate correction. Either my husband or I would say something like [name of daughter] needs counseling. At that point one parent would remain in the lunchroom with the other children while the designated disciplinarian would take the child out of the lunch room to a private space where parent and child could discuss her behavior and the consequences.

I never imagined anything wrong with using counseling as a euphemism for discipline, but let’s fast forward a couple of years.

One day several years later, a daughter got into the car after school as mad as a wet setting hen (to use my dad’s expression). She was so angry at us because we had used counseling as a code word. She was upset because she had been embarrassed when her teacher asked if anyone knew what counseling meant and she had raised her hand and answered that counseling was when you had done something wrong and you were in trouble with your parents. Her classmates laughed at her. How could we have been so cruel to humiliate her?

Unintended consequences of words spoken with good intentions.


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