The highly respected psychiatrist, John H Reitman, once said that, “It takes an average person almost twice as long to understand a sentence that uses a negative approach than it does to understand a positive sentence”.
Everyday since most of us were about two years old we have spoken a countless number of words. It doesn’t matter which language we have spoken. Just the fact that we use words to convey our needs, wants, desires and emotions.
As a young child my parents taught me the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, far too quickly, I learned that words could be even more powerful than sticks and stones and that words could hurt the deep psyche that can leave lasting scars. Those lasting scars lead to powerful emotions for most of our lives.
As educators, we need to be even more mindful of our words and consider what we are saying and why we are saying.
Negative vs Positive
Negative language often:
* tells the person what cannot be done.
* has a subtle tone of blame.
* includes words like can’t, won’t, unable to, not to or don’t.
* emphasises the negative behaviour over the desired positive behaviour.
* does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.
* Is ambiguous and doesn’t explain what you want them to do. “Don’t spill your drink! ” (How does a child not spill a drink?)
Positive language often:
* tells the person what can be done.
* suggests alternatives and choices available to the person.
* sounds helpful and encouraging rather than chastising.
* stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated.
Examples of Positive Mindful Language choices:
– ” Mary is making right choices.”
– “Remember Mary, we make the right choice.”
– “You have two choices.” ( Then give two positive choices which you are willing to compromise on to get the desired behaviour. It allows a child to feel in control but in a safe range.)
– “I wonder why Mary has hit John.”
– “I like it when Mary sits in her place when she comes into class.”
– “Mary, shut the door quietly.”
– “I can tell you are not happy right now. You are breathing fast, your face is red and you have tears in your eyes. Take some deep breaths with me.”
– Give a child time to calm down with other mindful strategies and then discuss what has happened and LISTEN to what they have to say. Ask guiding questions and repeat your appreciation for how it made them feel and refer to how it has made you feel.
– When having lengthier conversations with a child about their behaviour, end with restating what they did well.
– In the Classroom, end the day on a high note by giving a minute to everyone reflecting on what one positive thing happened that day. Let that be their “exit ticket” at home time.
It is also important for you to encourage kindness and positivity in the words the children use to speak to you and others. Give some time to practice HOW we say things, how we use our words and explore how that makes us feel.
At the end of the day, we must remember that positive language leads to positive self-esteem. If a person has positive self-esteem, than they are likely to have a more even temperament and a healthy balance of the stress hormone, cortisol. Negative self-esteem keeps a person at a heightened stress point with high levels of cortisol which keeps them in the constant moment of fight, flight or freeze.
How positive is your language? Challenge your class and yourself this week, change one thing you say in a negative way and make it a powerful positive phrase. Let the child’s actions speak for themselves.
Note: In addition to positive language, one must also consider the importance of body language. (To be outlined in another post shortly.)