Tips &

Tips &

Mind Your Language: How to Skyrocket a Child’s Confidence!

February 2019
Janthea Brigden
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In my 25 years as a childcare practitioner, and 30+ years as a parent, I have paid particular attention to the way we talk to children, and in particular, the language we use. In this weekly #mindyourlanguage series, I’m going to explain how simple ways in which we use language can affect a child’s behaviour, understanding and relationship with us.

What we tend to say

“You never put your coat on the peg properly”

“We always put our toys away in this nursery”

"Everyone knows that…”

How often do we consider whether the language we use is causing a child to feel shamed or excluded? Over time these seemingly throw-away comments can affect a child’s self-worth. Saying things like “we always…”, verbally excluds the child. The same with ‘everyone’, it implies that if I don’t know a particular something, I'm somehow less of a person. These simple sentences can cause a child to feel as though they are ‘not good enough’ for the group and lead to low self-esteem and isolation. 

As a parent or childcare professional, it is crucially important for us to consider the language we use around children.

Do you mean ‘never’? Really? I’m sure there are times they do put their peg on the hook. Everyone? Clearly not everyone knows whatever it is, because the child is part of 'everyone'. It’s hyperbole at best, and at worst it can be incredibly hurtful to a child (or an adult for that matter!).

Try this instead

How about replacing the criticism with a clear description of what you mean, and how they can change their behaviour? For example:

“I feel fed up with picking up the toys, I'd really like some help to put them away”

“Some people find adding up easy, and for others, it can take a little longer.”

If a child is consistently not following instructions, it may be that they have not fully understood them, and are perhaps nervous to ask. How about asking if they need some extra help.

For example: “I’ve noticed that your coat often lands up on the floor. Let me know if you need any help to get it on the hook.”

Remember that a child's brain (particularly a teenager's) needs constant repetition in order to ‘fix’ instructions. It isn't their fault, its neuroscience!

Clear, positive instruction is far LESS likely to impact on a child’s self-esteem, and far MORE likely to have the outcome you want!