I was introducing one of my Primary students the other day to the idea of irony, when she asked me, “So how do we know if someone really means what they say or not?”

Because most of us grow up in a consistent social environment that presents us with norms we instinctively develop the maturity and skills needed to recognise this, but the question led me to wonder whether most of us act with the sincerity that is needed when raising children.

We all realise that we need to give positive messages to our children. This instils self-confidence so that they can deal with life’s knocks and challenges.

When we say compassionate, rather than judgemental things, this rubs off on our children and affects not only the way they behave but the way they feel toward us. This article from thedaddude.com talks about the inner voice that children develop from the words we say to them.

We also want our kids to be kind towards others. That’s why it is sometimes shocking to see their early command of sarcasm. You only need to do a stint at yard duty at a school at lunch time to witness this. Studies now show that kids can pick up on sarcasm as early as age 4.

So when your child comes to you with her latest piece of art and you reply, “That’s lovely, dear,” they can tell whether you are being sincere. We often use sarcasm without even realising it. Phrases such as, “How many times have I told you not to do that?” demand an understanding of the implied message behind the words.

What this suggests is that while what we say is obviously fundamentally important, kids are able to pick up a lot more than we often realise. Especially in this new age of information technology, they are confronted with more at an earlier age than ever before. It makes sense then, that if we want them to achieve their potential, we should probably be more conscious of the fact that they don’t just listen – they interpret what we say and how we say it.