Whenever the topic of language development comes up, I immediately think of one of the many stories from the book Use Your Words: How Teacher Talk Helps Children Learn by Carol Garhart Mooney. The story starts with a preschool director giving a prospective family a school tour. During the tour her assistant interrupted saying that there was a call that the director needed to take. The director bent down to the child’s level and told her that she had to go and take a call, but in the meantime her assistant Nancy would show her the preschool room. The child looked upset and told the director, “No thank you, I would like to go to nice time, not mean time!”
What is the moral of this story? Simply that we shouldn’t take the conversations that we have with our children for granted. They have only been in the world for a short time and don’t always understand or know how to interpret what they hear in our casual conversations. Many children are not able to communicate their misunderstandings as well as the child in the example so we have to be alert to know when they need our direction and support.
We have made sure that all Primrose Schools across the nation have this useful and informative book in their teacher resource library. Although the book was written primarily for teachers, I have given this book to many grateful parents over the years – after all, a parent is a child’s first teacher.
The following tips from the book are just a sample of the insight you can gain from reading Use Your Words:
Consider your delivery. When you are talking to your child, your tone and facial expressions are just as important as what you are saying. Remember you are not just communicating through words, children pick up on emotions and body language too.
Don’t go back and forth. Say what you mean and mean what you say. It is important that you are consistent with both your message and your follow through. For example, if you say “No,” stand firm!
Be courteous. Treat children with the same respect that you expect as an adult. Teach your children to use please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, etc. by modeling them in your own interactions with them and others.
Get their attention. When addressing your child, make sure you have their attention. Get on their level and look them in the face. When we talk “down” to children, it can cause them to feel insignificant. You want your child to know you are also ready to listen and that what they have to say is important to you.
Offer specific praise. When you praise your child (as parents love to do), follow it with the behavior that you are celebrating and why it is important—to them and to others. For example, “Great job putting your books away, Anna! You’ll know just where to find them when you want to read them again.”
Say what you mean. Avoid complex language or “sayings.” As children are learning language, they can be very literal. Remember the story of the preschool director and the little girl misunderstanding the meaning of “meantime” and choose your words carefully!