• Talking Respectfully to Children

One of the gifts that my parents imparted to me during those formative years of childhood was the love of reading. I was a voracious reader in Elementary, stalled my reading during my teenage years, and later returned to a love of reading, mainly to learn to become a better educational leader in adulthood.

Words are important to me, as they hold meaning and are to be treated with focus and intention. As educators, we have a responsibility to continuously improve our modelling of talking respectfully to the children in our presence, especially in a professional environment such as a childcare centre or school.

I will be hosting a virtual book club on the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. If you are interested, please view the information box below on how to register for our bi-weekly book club! The book club is free to join, except for the cost of the book, and I will be facilitating alongside others in the childcare field.

The following ideas from this informative book will be helpful in imparting knowledge to your community of educators.

Learn to look and listen

The importance of carefully observing a child as he goes about his work cannot be understated. This is one of the ways we can show respect for the child. We often jump to conclusions and step in without considering what the child might be doing, thinking, or feeling. Put away distractions and look into a child’s eyes when you speak.

  • Practice observing and staying quiet at first.
  • Listen to yourself as well as the child(ren).
  • If your immediate inclination is dismay or anger, write down what you would like to say, but do not say it.
  • Try not to fix anything or problem-solve – just be with the child.

Name the feeling

It is most productive to help children identify and learn from their emotions. Adapt the style or phrasing to suit your student’s ages.

  • Listen to the child as he or she talks, offering feedback such as, “I see.”
  • Recognize and name the child’s feelings: “You seem upset (or angry, or happy)…”
  • Resist asking and then answering questions that are rhetorical or accusatory: “What were you thinking?” “Who took an extra snack?” “How many times have I told you…?”
  • Try to understand from the child’s perspective and describe, perhaps fantastically, “It sounds like you wish you could play outside all day!”
  • Show respect for the child’s struggle: “I see that it is hard for you to…”
  • Describe the dilemma the student is facing: “Even though you know…” “The problem is…”

Engage cooperation

Your classroom setup should be thoughtfully planned in order to encourage independence. Children should not need to rely on the adults in the room for everything. Give children the time and the direction they need, so they can be independent and successful in their play and work.

  • Say it with information: Use a word of short description rather than a repetitive demand.
  • Write notes around the classroom for children who can read. Use reminder images to help children to recall what they need to do, for example, a picture by the coat room of a child putting on his/her winter jacket.
  • Acknowledge feelings first: “You are hungry this morning!”
  • Offer a choice: “Do you want to work in this area of the classroom or that area of the classroom?”
  • Be playful: “If you were a magician, you would have cleaned up this work already!”
  • Rather than reminding, describe what you see: “This table needs to be cleaned.”

Be patient as you learn these skills. It takes time and practice, and it will make a positive impact in your classroom. As Faber and Mazlish state, “We want to demonstrate the kind of respectful communication that we hope our children will use with us now, during their adolescent years, and ultimately as our adult friends.” (1982, p. 88).

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