Tips &

Tips &

Will we ever change the way we speak to children?

April 2017
Janthea Brigden
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I felt both elated and frustrated reading several articles recently; ‘The Wrong Way to Speak to Children’ in the Wall Street Journal, and an article in the Huffington Post – ‘The Fourth Trimester -Why Newborns Hate Being Put Down’

Elated because it compounds the views and philosophy I have been advocating as a parent, and childcare professional, for over 25 years. Frustrated because these strategies for looking after and talking to children seem so logical and obvious to me, that I struggle to understand why they aren’t universally practiced in 2017!

Where is the evolution?

In the early 90′s I joined an organisation called Parent Network which did ground breaking work, starting with middle class mums. They slowly engaged community centres, schools, prisons, and the social services. When “parenting orders’ required the parent’s of juvenile offenders to go on a course, the Parent Network took off. Fathers groups, divorcee groups, groups for ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community, the Parent Network even developed NVQ’s in parenting skills!

We thought we’d started a revolution, but it was painfully slow and seems to have died out in the early 2000′s.

I obstinately held onto my ‘crack pot theories’, and the Nipperbout ‘Purple People’ were trained in the ‘Nipperbout childcare style’ whether they agreed with it or not! I still find staff dubious in regards to constant carrying of babies, but I am so confident of the benefits, that I insist on children under three months being held constantly whilst in our care. If a parent does not agree with this, then I prefer not to admit the child. In my view, the health and safety risk, (as well as the emotional trauma), of keeping a very young person away from the living, breathing, moving environment they have been used to for the past nine months, is too great a risk.

The success of the unique way the Purple People have been trained to talk to children is apparent in the young people who pass through our settings. Their positive feedback is evidenced both in writing, and the way they return year after year, reluctant to leave Nipperbout even at 16!

The method

The method itself is simple; tell children what you do want them to do rather than what you don’t, and be specific and factual with both praise, and requests for change.

It seems logical, and yet adults (including myself), struggle not to revert to the way they were spoken to themselves as children. We slip back to the communication methods, heard all around us, which many adults claim ‘never hurt’ them, and ‘seem to work’.

The second is true. The standard methods of fear, cohesion, manipulation, and praise based on emotional blackmail, do indeed work.

The first however is not true. Adults who have done any self development work on themselves, will know that most of our hang ups and issues stem from incidents and seemingly inconsequential moments in our childhood. The ‘resilience’ of children is cheerily proclaimed by many professionals, who at the same time admit that everyone has childhood ‘stuff’ of some kind to deal with.

Be clear

The good news is that we also remember and develop from those positive times when our childhood feelings were acknowledged, when an injustice was seen and put right, when praise was given unconditionally with no ulterior motive, and when we knew we were appreciated right at that moment rather than for what we might become.

I feel glad that the way adults speak to children, and the importance of those first few months after birth, are again being examined. Cynically, I also think real change will take a long, long time.

My experience is that many young people connect with and appreciate the benefits of clear, clean communication more readily than adults. Perhaps the way forward is to start teaching these communication skills to children themselves.

We may not be able to change the world, but if we can change the world for one person, that’s progress.