Our children are sponges – soaking in the language and experiences around them. How often do you hear your child say something and think – where did they hear that? We need to be conscious of the language that we are using around our children as it shapes their view of the world and develops their ‘inner voice’.
My daughter is 16 months old and is constantly surprising me with her understanding of language and the connection she can make. The other night we were eating butter chicken for dinner, I pointed in her bowl and ask her if she wanted to eat some more chicken. She was happily eating, saying ‘chicken, chicken’ and then she started saying ‘Papa, papa!’. When we go and visit her grandparents, Papa always takes her to visit the chickens in the garden! She had made this connection all by herself. It is very easy to underestimate the language understanding of young children and I am realising that I will have to be more aware of what I say around her!
It is great to involve children in our conversations but there are some topics that want to avoid while they are around. My aim is to speak positively to my daughter and to speak positively about my daughter.
Speaking positively to our children
We want our children to have a positive outlook on life. The language that we use has the power to shape their view of the world. When we use positive and hopeful language our children learn that the world is a safe and trustworthy place. Our tone, word choice and body language can either strengthen or damage our connection and relationship with our children.
We know that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ (Donald Hebb). What this means is that when we use positive language with children we are actually helping to grow and develop parts of their brain. ‘Repeated joint language interactions’ (saying the same thing over and over) builds emotional connection and language development! We can pick any phrases to say to our children as long as they are special to us and we use them repeatedly. ‘I love you to the moon and back! Or ‘Guess what? I love you!’ are great examples.
Positive language is also an effective behaviour management technique. If we spend our time telling children what we want them to do rather than what we don’t want them to do the results are amazing! Processing auditory information can be hard for young children so ‘walk please’ is easier to understand than ‘stop running in the house!’.
Speaking positively about our children
Our children are listening. Always. Even when we think they are playing or ignoring us! As parents, we have days where we struggle to get our children to listen to the things we need them to do (come here, get dressed, stop hitting!) but if there is an adult conversation going on, some inappropriate language dropped, or a topic discussed that is beyond their level we can be sure that they will tune in and repeat it at the worst time!
We also need to think about what we are saying about our children within their hearing. It can be very tempting to complain about our children’s behaviour when we catch up with a friend or when our partner gets home at the end of the day, but the things that we say can really affect our children’s perception of themselves.
If our children constantly hear us talking about them as being messy, unhelp or difficult they will come to believe this. I know that when I hear someone talking about me it has even more of an impact than when they are talking to me. Think about how overhearing a compliment can brighten your day, or when you hear that someone has been speaking negatively about you it plays over and over in your mind. Our children are the same, we want to be building them up and supporting them to be the best version of themselves. Our words help shape our children’s behaviour.
Being conscious of what we say can be really difficult and I don’t always get it right! But I know what an impact our language has on young children and so my aim is to use my words for good, speaking positively to and about my children.