Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How We Speak to Our Children: Exchanging negative words with positive ones


I came across this quote the other day: "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice".

As someone who is in constant battle with my own inner voice, this quote struck a chord deep within me, so I wrote it on a rock and placed it on my kitchen table where I can read it every day!

It also got me to thinking about the words we use when talking to or describing our children and students. When I was in the classroom full time, I made a concerted effort to use positive words instead of negative ones. I have tried to remember as many as I can to share here, but there are myriad others to consider:
  • Instead of "bossy", we might describe a child as a "leader"
  • Rather than "nosy", we can describe this child as "inquisitive"
  • Instead of "hyper", we might describe a child as "athletic" or "active"
  • Rather than "lazy", we can describe this child as "meticulous"
  • Instead of "distractable", we might describe a child as a "multi-tasker"
We also have to be conscious of positive labels we put on children. Just because we think a descriptor is a compliment, does not mean they will agree. 

Or, when all we focus on is one aspect of a child, this can quickly become a stigma. 

One example of this was a Vietnamese student I had a few years ago. Traditionally, people view individuals of Asian descent as being "smart", and this boy was no exception. Sadly, he grew so tired of having to live up to this expectation that he began to purposefully fail his classes. Realizing what was happening, I tried to recognize and nurture other aspects of his personality, such as his humor. To tap into his humorous side, I put him in charge of choosing a weekly idiom for which he and two other classmates would act out in a skit. Being recognized for something other than his intelligence, my student forgot he was trying to fail and, once again, performed to his ability.

These reflections came at the perfect time for me to share my ruminations with the Slice of Life community over at Two Writing Teachers. You can visit their website to read more slices or to share your own! Before you do, though, feel free to share any word changes you can think of to help us speak more positively to our children...

10 comments:

  1. Sara thank you for this reminder. Good thing to keep the rock on your table. Maybe you should also put one in your pocket. I said such nurturing, positive, loving things to my boys when they were young. Then, they became teenagers and I haven't been so good about that. I needed your rock on my table and in my pocket. I find myself doing a lot of apologizing to my boys these days. Well, at least I am modelling how to be someone who can apologize, right?

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    1. Hi Pamela, I love the idea of carrying a rock in my pocket! And, yes, I find I am a great role model for apologizing, too :-)

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  2. This is so true, and it's good to be reminded of it. I have seen this in the teachers my own children have had, and I know it's also true of my students. And as you said, it's not just the negative messages that can hurt a child, but sometimes the positive ones can as well. I was in a lower socio-economic school for a short time. One of the teachers always spoke so glowingly of one student's future, because she had so much potential, but I think the girl only saw it as pressure that she couldn't live up to.

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    1. Yes, Becky, and when teachers focus so much on one student, that can lead to dissension between her and her peers. This was what I found to be the case, anyway. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts :-)

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  3. This is such a wonderful reminder. I am not currently working with children in schools or tutoring, but I have a two year old who, like most two year olds, is energetic. I have to remind myself daily when disciplining to not tell her that SHE is bad.

    I love your story about the Vietnamese boy.

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    1. Thanks so much, Raeily! I also try to limit my use of the word "no" and try to rephrase to a redirection, such as "Let's play with this instead of that". The more active they get, though, the harder it is to do this :-)

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  4. Thanks for the reminder...in the midst of some negativity right now, so this was nice to read!

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    1. I'm so glad my post was helpful, Aggie :-) Good luck in finding your way out of the negativity!

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  5. Yes, the words are so important. Last week, my father-in-law passed and my daughter was upset about missing an event at school to attend the funeral. I told her that this wasn't about her, and that we would go to the funeral because we loved Daddy and Grandpa. Later on, she said to me, "All these people are so sad, and I know it isn't about me but I feel sad for them, too." OY!! I realized my error and hopefully was able to correct it. LOL.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your family's loss, Nancy! Our children are much more empathetic than we sometimes give them credit for :-) Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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