A reader asked if I would compile a list of my go-to phrases that are useful in my daily work with young children. She mentioned that in reading my blog, she finds herself writing down phrases that she can keep on hand for when life picks up the pace.
I thought it was a marvelous suggestion! Keeping a list of phrases in your mental “back-pocket” can come in handy in any occasion. I have included a list of phrases below with lots of links if you are interested in more of the why behind each phrase.
Each of these phrases originated in its own way: some, suggestions from friends and colleagues, others, the result of conferences I’ve attended or readings I’ve done. Still others have grown organically out of my personal interactions with young children. I am indebted to the entire early childhood community for its collective wisdom, especially voices found here. Many phrases on this list were shared with me by Kelly Matthews and the young children in her in-home program, A Place For You Child Development Home (she now works as a consultant and is available for superb trainings through her business with the same name). My language around problem solving was heavily influenced by Dan Gartrell’s The Power of Guidance and Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky’s Challenging Behavior in Young Children.
And now, the list:
- What would be helpful? When a child is sad, hurt, lonely, or angry, this phrase serves to keep the child in charge of her process. Respect for the child’s body is one cornerstone of my work. No kissing away a hurt without permission!
- What’s your plan? Useful when two children disagree, when a child and I are at an impasse, or when a child is working to solve a problem on his own, this phrase helps a child verbalize a course of action.
- You feel strongly. When someone is in the middle of a meltdown, these three words are emotionally cathartic. They reflect back to the child her inner emotional reality which helps as she learns to connect with her feelings. Also, “you feel strongly” respects a child’s right to define her emotional experience. “You’re feeling sad” or “You’re really angry” – while possibly accurate, short-circuits the child’s chance to learn how she feels.
- That was helpful/friendly/generous/gracious/etc. The more specific our language with children, the more they can learn “life rules.” We tend to casually drop guidelines without definitions. Instead of: be kind, I need helpers, or share your toys, specific language supports the child’s growing knowledge of what it means to be a friend, to be helpful, or to be generous.
- I see a problem. I see two friends who both want ____. What’s your plan? I say it so often that I don’t often make it past the first sentence before children offer suggestions. Allowing children the power to negotiate in the face of disagreement builds extraordinary confidence.
- You wish you could ___. I understand. This phrase offers a basic empathetic connection with a child who feels strongly. You wish you could play with the grasshopper. I understand.
- I will keep you safe. Whenever I have to intervene with a child who is acting aggressively, I step in with as little physical restraint as necessary (blocking a hand from hitting, for example) and use this phrase. Children need to know that we will help them when they feel out of control.
- I remember when you couldn’t ___ and now you can! Everyone is learning! This phrase allows children to see their progress over time and celebrates the victories as they come. One of our crew recently learned how to untie her shoes from a double knot. I offered: I remember when you couldn’t untie your shoes and now you can! Everyone is learning! I glimpsed a face so full of pride it could not be contained without a joyful little dance. Musician Tom Hunter has a song by this title and is the source for this insightful language.
- You are in charge of your body. I don’t want to paint! No problem. You are in charge of your body. I don’t want to eat my peas. No problem. You are in charge of your body. I’m not tired. No problem. You are in charge of your body. (Followed by, You can rest while your friends sleep.)
Now, for all the readers who would like a quick reference sheet, I created this just for you (from scratch, with my limited Photoshop skills…golf clap, everyone)! If you would like to print a copy, right click on the image below and save it to your desktop. I hope this is helpful!