26 October 2018

As adults, we have developed vocabulary and emotional skills suitable to communicate clearly and to express how we are feeling. However, children are yet to develop these skills and therefore we can be good role models to support children to develop oral language so that they can confidently communicate and express themselves.

For example, when communicating with a child who is feeling frustrated, we can forget that children have not yet had the entitlement of age to allow them to be able to judge the best way to respond in any given situation.

Imagine yourself in your favourite place, doing your favourite thing, where everything is just right and you have all the time in the world. Then imagine someone stomping in, disrupting it all, destroying your mood and then you are told “use your words’!

All you might want to do is yell, scream or cry. You may be so upset or bewildered by the situation that you simply don’t know what to say at all (even with all your vast vocabulary).

Then think about being 2 years old, playing with a toy happily, minding your own business, when someone comes along and takes it away or tells you to pack it up now. You don’t want to, you’re happy and now you’re angry and frustrated. You communicate this by crying or screaming and then the big person in front of you says “use your words”. How do you find the right words in this situation, or any words at all? Do you even have the right words yet?

Here are some ways to encourage children in this situation without saying “use your words”:

Role model: children learn best when they have it modelled for them. Role modelling what words you would like to hear i.e. “I’m still playing with this”. If we want children to respond in the ‘correct’ way, we need to teach them what that is. Words are no help to a situation if a child does not have them in their vocabulary to call on when they need them.

Comfort the child: give the upset child a hug or comfort them and talk about how they are feeling out loud and how they could have dealt with it. i.e “I know you are sad that Tim took your truck before you were finished, let’s tell him you’re sad and that you hadn’t finished playing with it yet.”

Reinforce the use of words: “I really liked the way you told Sam that you were still playing with the toy.” This validates the child’s feelings, tells them that you understand and gives them the reinforcement of doing it in a positive, caring way.

If a child begins to get upset at an injustice in their world, you can support them by allowing them to know you understand, comfort them and help them find the words to use.