Small Step No. 17: Say What You See

There are no shortage of things to work on in this grand life, no limits to areas in need of refinement. Of late, for me? Communication. In specific? Tongue-holding.

It came as a surprise to me to find that my go-to method of parenting communication thus far has been The Lecturer. To talk things through until the horse is dead and gone, until the final note nailed. I’ve never been much of a verbal processor, so trust me when I say that my unofficial tendency to pummel a small child with big words is just as puzzling to me as it likely is to you.

Once, when Bee was 3 and we were road tripping down south for the winter, I launched into a verbal monologue on eye contact and its importance, on its kindness, on how it shows someone else that you’re listening even if you’re not entirely understanding, like remember how it feels when uncle Al kneels down to meet your eyes? and wouldn’t you know it, the girl fell asleep midway through my point and Ken laughed all the way to Georgia.

It seems harmless until the lecture isn’t about eye contact, but instead, is a far weightier conversation – one laden with discipline, where word after word holds the careful ability to squelch a spirit entirely.

And so, a small reminder for myself, courtesy of this simple trick my friend’s mother shared with me:

Say what you see.

And sometimes, only that.

Last night, Bernie began, as he does every night around 5pm, hurling himself into the pantry door in want of food (he is ever subtle). The official feeding-of-the-dogs is Bee’s chore, something she volunteered for last summer in order to earn the three (now two, R.I.P. Bob) fish swimming happily on her bedroom dresser. But Bee was lost in an art project, deaf to Bernie’s propelling entirely, and everything within me wanted to address the issue of responsibility and follow-through, the importance of keeping commitments (yes, I, too, recognize the insanity of expecting work ethic mastery at the ripe age of 5). Instead, I said only this:

I see Bernie’s ready for dinner.

The paintbrush went down, and five minutes later, the dogs were fed and she was back to her creation, adding jellyfish to the ocean floor.

I’m finding since that this micro-mantra, this ‘Say what you see’ is applicable in nearly any scenario – in offering (and receiving) feedback, in sharing compliments, in encouraging another. Just last week I scrawled a list of helpful things I witnessed Ken doing – for us, for others – and tucked it into a Valentine taped to the garage door. There it was in black and white: every little thing from taxes to trash duty. He felt appreciated. He felt seen.

I’ve been practicing the art all around town – from noticing my barista’s new cheek color (sidenote: it was this and it looked incredible) to offering a hand to the grandfather in the grocery.

Sure, we can say what we think. We can say what we know to be true, and why. We can spend our days lecturing our kids, defending our convictions to others, attempting to talk everyone else into understanding things precisely the way we understand them.

But sometimes, often times, we need only say what we see.

And to listen – carefully, intently – to what we don’t.



p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. More here.

  • This was a fresh word of encouragement to me this morning!
    Thanks for your perspective :) I find myself sometimes too overthinking and drawing out long explanations. Ha!

  • I started “saying what I see” years ago when my daughters were toddlers and little did I realize at the time, they were noticing. They are independent young women now and it warms my heart to see them practicing what their beautiful toddler eyes and ears absorbed.

  • I love this! My favorite nighttime story for the little one is Sweet Dreams Roo, and every time I get to Owl’s lecture where he drones on and on and on I see my own reflection and realize I’d like to be a bit more Piglet, or Pooh, and just get on with it.

    Erin, your blog inspires me so.

  • Have we been living the same life recently?😉 Your posts have been so spot on for me lately, perhaps it’s because I just chose to stay home with my three year old and seven month old. Thank you for your wonderful insight and beautiful words!

  • I am an over talker for sure and especially with my children. I wish I had learned this while they were young. This last year my oldest turned 19. When he was 18 I stopped saying much about anything. I was learning to let him take the reins more. Funny thing about that is he started coming to me and asking me for advice or sharing his thoughts. I still over share/lecture my other two though and I’ve been
    trying to figure out how to stop but still be in charge. I’ll start here with, “Say what you see”.

  • So I’m not the only one lecturing a 5-year-old on weighty topics? Whew! I’m going to attempt to Say What I See, and see how that goes. Thanks Erin!

    • Good luck! I’ve been biting my tongue quite a lot this week – it’s surprisingly hard! Solidarity!!! ;)

  • So inspired by this…I am going to try it this week with my four year old.

  • Erin, I love this so much!! And it’s crazy to me that I wrote about Being Seen this week, too. Have you read Maya Angelou’s 4 Questions on being seen?? Katherine Schafler wrote about them in an AMAZING article…anyway, it’s all here if anyone is interested: (Really, I’m not enticing anyone to my blog but I’m just so excited at the groundswell of this incredible conversation!!) Sending big hugs from Sydney. Your work is warm tea & a snuggly blanket, Erin.

  • I agree with you. As a school teacher for 27 years, I know that young children tune out when there are too any words. Keep it simple and positive. I like how you share your life with us and we can all benefit from your wisdom.

  • Thank you for this. I, too, lecture my little ones, and I’d like for that to improve. This is good advice. Thank you!

  • This is so good, Erin. I really felt convicted by this. I don’t want to the nagger. I’m going to start implementing this today.

    • Ah, I so hope it’s helpful, Lina — and I’m right there alongside of you!!! Big hugs!

  • I love this! Thank you for sharing. As an elementary school teacher, we are often taught to say it using ’10 words or less.’ After that, they’re not listening anymore. It often involves just what you spoke of – what we observe. I love that it allows them to be problem solvers all on their own!

    • Oh 10 words or less is a great goal! I always think of the Peanuts cartoon when I find myself rambling on… ;)

  • I have been going through such a tough time. Thank you for the snippets and tips you share of your life that helps to alleviate even just one struggle in mine. Today, life felt so exhausting. It’s heartening to learn something new that can help ease me out of that mindset. I’m grateful for you today.

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  • Say what you see? I am a decorator by trade and it is my job to say what I see constantly. I am a total visual person and it just comes naturally to me. Now, saying what I feel might be a whole different ball of wax…but you didn’t blog about that, did you?

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