“Use your words!”
I hear this constantly in classrooms. I also want children to use their words instead of reacting physically, but what words do young children have? Mommy. Daddy. Dog. Moo. Toddlers may know more words, but how do they know which words to use in which situations?
As adults we have life experience to fall back on. We can remember when a friend hurt our feelings and instead of hitting we talked through the situation. When we remember those experiences, it helps us determine how to handle a current situation. Young children don’t have those life experiences to remember. So, why do adults expect children to automatically know the words they are supposed to use?
Instead of just saying “Use your words,” adults should give children options. “You can say, ‘I don’t like that’ if he does something you don’t like.” “You can say gentle touches when she touches you.” As adults and educators we need to model the language we want the children to use. When a child hits another child, we can say “Be nice with your hands.” As adults who serve a diverse population of families, we need to be aware of the words we use and how they may impact the children. We should always use appropriate language around the children. How else are the children going to learn how to speak with others?
For example, if a child gets paint all over her shirt, we shouldn’t say, “Your mom is going to kill me when she sees your shirt.” We can say, “Oh goodness, I forgot to put a smock on you and you got paint on your shirt!” When a child walks over to another child, instead of saying, “Don’t scratch him,” we can encourage positive peer interaction. We can say, “You are looking at him. What do you think?”
We also need to “catch” the children doing things we want them to do. While in a classroom, I saw two boys sitting next to each other. Liam put his arm around Sean while they were sitting and listening to a story. At first Sean didn’t like it. He pulled away but Liam was persistent. Sean then put his hand on Liam’s hand and stroked it. As educators, we should take these moments to speak to the children about the empathy and kindness that is happening. “Liam, I see you put your arm around Sean. That is very kind.” “Sean, I see you and Liam sitting next to each other while you are listening to the story.”
Our words may be simple, but they’re powerful. And those are the kinds of words we should encourage children to use.