When I read this story I knew I wanted to share it with more people. This mom’s perceptive look at the habits we have in our speech illustrates the value of intentionally adding more positive phrases to say to kids to our repertoire. As she says below – this is not a teacher trying to be negative, but it is an example of a time where a habitually said phrase could be changed just a little and add a more inclusive positive tone to the day.
Why bother being more positive? Go ahead and read her her story and then I’ll give you my take on why this actually matters. Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Thank you! I came across your site because of something I heard this morning when I dropped my kids off at pre-school.
We were late because of many things, including the youngest screaming because of not wanting to take off her cozy pajamas (and generally not wanting to get out of bed). We ended up being 5 minutes late. At this stage it is not a train smash because it is pre-school but they had started activities. My boy’s class had already left to go to drama in the theater. So, after dropping off Sara in her class, I ran Owen out the door towards the theater. He even asked why I was running. I thought because we were late. I did not even think that usually he would be told to “walk” by his teacher. But I did not want him to be any later.
When we arrived, we peeked through the door and saw the class on the stage practicing something. When they saw Owen, several of them shouted, “Owen!” or “Here is, Owen!” I peeked through the door happy that the kids were so happy to see him. Then I heard the teacher say, “Just ignore him”.
There is the reason for my coming across your site. Just to sum briefly, as a kid I was very sensitive to what others said to me or about me. The words, “ignore her” would have penetrated to the deepest part of my being. I know my son is a little bit more resilient than me but who knows what he is harbouring in the depths of his soul.
I began to think of something more encouraging that the drama teacher could have said without taking up more of her time. Like, “Welcome Owen. Great that you are here. Let’s continue”. This would have included him into the group. “Ignore him” implies that he is not really part of it. It sounds like “Just leave him out.” or “He is not worth your attention.” Interesting, I did not feel stabbed by the words, because I can imagine that many teachers use these words. Usually when a child has been a bit naughty. But Owen had not even said anything. The other kids spoke up. He was not worthy of being ignored. In fact he needed to be placed somewhere.
Sometimes we need to pause before we speak. It reminded me about the power of the tongue, hence Googling “positive things to say to kids” and coming across your site.
Thank you for your posts. I am on a journey of instilling good things into my kids to build children of steadfast character. ~A.
“He needs to be placed somewhere.”
So why did this strike me? It doesn’t seem like it’s such a big deal…
Here’s what I see:
We can support children’s growth and engage their problem solving abilities best when we work with the way their brain works. In the Whole Brain Child Dr. Daniel Siegel talks about making a choice to either “enrage the downstairs brain or engage the upstairs brain.” You can see a video of Dr. Siegel speaking here about the upstairs and downstairs brain.
As you can guess – the downstairs brain is the part of the brain that is more defensive, likely to get angry, shut down problem solving. Think of a power struggle with a toddler digging in their heels on an issue.
The upstairs brain is engaged with what’s going on, able to be flexible, receptive to new ideas and able to problem solve.
A more side-by-side, positive approach tends to invite engagement with the upstairs brain meaning kids who are more willing to work with you. One thing that sometimes helps me is thinking, “How can I invite them in to participate with me?”
Often taking this side-by-side approach doesn’t take any more time, just a little more thought. Dealing with the unexpected in a more connected, compassionate way takes practice. But that’s also what I love about this example with the teacher. It reminds me that during our day-to-day life we are faced with hundreds of moments where we can practice. The more often we practice choosing a generally more positive/inclusive way of talking, the more likely we will be able to choose to engage the upstairs brain during times of greater stress, because this way of problem solving and side-by-side thinking will come more naturally to us.
I don’t always have the emotional reserves to make this work (my upstairs brain isn’t always functioning so well I suppose), but the more I practice it, the easier it gets and more I am able to use this thinking in a variety of situations.
What would invite you to step into your class, ready to learn?
“Just ignore him.”
“Welcome, please join us and we can keep moving.”