I believe that a child’s early experiences can have a lasting impact on their mental health and am pleased that it is now widely acknowledged that a child who feels secure in themself and their environment will be more likely to prosper.
The UK government recognises the importance of this in the Early Years Foundation Stage, stating in the Development Matters guidelines that; “Children’s personal, social and emotional development is crucial for children to lead healthy and happy lives, and is fundamental to their cognitive development.” It also states that children should be supported to “develop a positive sense of self.”
The Yogi Group offer a range of services and resources aimed at enhancing children’s wellbeing, and I am delighted to have been asked to write this post for them. My name is Amy Vanheste, and I’m a mother of three and an Ofsted registered childminder.
Something that The Yogi Group actively encourage is the conscious use of positive language, and this is one of the simplest ways that we can assist a child in developing a positive sense of self. Our choice of words when we describe each child and their behaviour, will affect how they respond and how they feel about themselves.
Little variations in what we say, such as “hold on tight,” rather than “don’t let go,” or “look where you’re going,” instead of “don’t trip,” can make a difference to the imminent actions of a child. The one told to hold tight, will likely do just that. The one told to not let go, is at greater risk of falling.
The words you use are absorbed, consciously or otherwise.
In developing an understanding of the world, a toddler experimenting with role play will often repeat everyday phrases that they have heard, such as “I’m making tea.” As the child matures, they may incorporate other aspects of their lives in play, repeating negative words that have been spoken, such as telling a doll, “you’re a bad girl.”
No child should be labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘naughty,’ even if they often display challenging behaviour. Instead, we can explain to a child when their behaviour is inappropriate or unacceptable, that it is the behaviour which needs addressing. They need to change or moderate their behaviour, not themself. Learning that you can choose your actions and reactions takes time and requires age-appropriate support. It’s our responsibility as adults to establish what caused the behaviour and to help the child understand this and consider alternatives.
The Buddhist religion teaches us that we’re all born fundamentally good. Sadly, being told throughout our lives that something is bad, not good enough, or needs changing, can lead adults to struggle with self-doubt or lack self-acceptance.
Instead of allowing children to form a self-critical mindset, we need to empower them to establish a strong foundation of loving kindness towards themselves.
Let's choose our words wisely.