Why Careful Language Use is Important
- Creates a climate of positive support for children
- Provides a sanctuary for stress free learning
- Allows for, encourages, and embraces differences
- Is respectful and egalitarian
- Opens up and nurtures highly productive and creative possibilities
- Models positive alternatives
- Increases vocabulary
Language is powerful
Commonly accepted language has the potential for great influence
We want to promote language that contributes to developing attitudes, skills, knowledge, and continued experiences in line with our philosophy and preferred practices. Our approach also references building on the traits desired for children at C5 Children’s School that include –
Analytical and critical
Competent in 100 languages
Respectful of others
Words and Terms that We Avoid
All staff members are asked to be consistent in avoiding the following uses of language at all times in speaking and writing and to adopt the proposed alternatives or something very similar.
Good ─ It is a generic praising term. We avoid praising, in addition to rewarding, disapproving, and punishing. The term “good” is often used with the best intentions. However, it misses opportunities to provide information that the child can use later to replicate the behavior, in addition to being recognized and supported for something at the moment.
Consider this example, “Good job.”
Instead, Give the Other Objective Details.
Just ─ It is minimizing, diminishing, and sometimes too limiting.
Consider this example, “I just wanted to help out.”
Use more affirmative, assertive, or informative language.
Should ─ It is pejorative and negatively imposing. It expresses duty or necessity that we want to avoid imposing on children.
Consider this example, “You should be doing better than you are doing.”
Use some other non-judgmental, non-condescending, non-demanding term or phrase and one that is more supportive or guiding.
Could ─ It is too tentative.
Consider this example, “I could come if I have the time on that day.”
Be more definite and affirmative. Use “can” “will” or “must.”
Need ─ This is often projected onto others or expressed as a confusing condition. It is easy for the language in our field in social services to become permeated with needy expressions and to be thinking of people as needy.
Consider this example, “You need to have your jacket on to go outside.”
Instead, express yourself as wanting or requiring something or qualifying your comment when it is referencing the internal state of another person. Consider an alternative, such as, “You have to have your jacket on to go out in the cold.” Or, state the benefit of doing what is desired, such as, “You can put on your jacket and be warm to go outside.”
No (and all of its derivatives: not, don’t, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t, hadn’t, etc.) ─ These can easily contribute greatly to creating a toxic climate of negativity and arbitrary adult power.
Consider this example, “She said that she is not going to share it with you.” Or, “She is not coming back until after lunch.” Or, “I don’t like it when you …”
Provide, instead, what is desired, possible, or likely in order to create a climate of positives, possibilities, encouragement, and a sanctuary for supporting optimal learning and developing.
But ─ It sets up a harsh contrast. Sometimes a strong or negative contrast is unnecessarily made.
Consider these examples, “She wanted the toy, but you wanted it too.” Or, “You want to go outside, but the other children want to stay inside.”
Use “and yet,” “however,” instead,” or “versus,” or simply state the different notions and process them as choices to be carefully considered. Use a positive or neutral conjunction when there is not an opposition or a contrast to be made.
I ─ Using “I” messages is too self-referential when asking children to do something, giving an opinion, making a declaration, or expressing a feeling.
Consider this example, “I am not going to let you bite other people.”
Instead, keep yourself out of the exchange and help the children to focus on their feelings, opinions, actions, etc. and to understand the intrinsic and other benefits for them, from their point of view, for doing something. Our objective is to help them to know and feel that they are respected by us and to become more competent in independently resolving issues themselves.
We, Us, or Our ─ These terms are misrepresentative when you are not directly involved as the others are in the action, situation, or concept.
Consider these examples, “We have to try to rest now.” Or, “It’s time for all of us to line up.” Or, “This is the way we write our name.”
Use terms that relate specifically to whom you are referring. For instance, Use, “You have to try to rest now.” Or, “It’s time for all children to line up.” Or, “This is the way you might write your name.”
Repeated Use of Generic References ─ Repeating the use of generic terms like “Parents” or “staff” is impersonal and distancing.
Instead, set the premise by mentioning to whom you are referring. Then, use the more specific, personable term thereafter; for example, “you” or “each of you.” If you are referring to one individual or a small group, use their names.
Cute ─ This term is often meant as appreciation for a child or children or for what they have done. However, it is not very respectful of the children or of the value of what they are actually learning or the way they are developing.
Instead, point out or describe the specific and important things that are happening.
Weakness ─ We avoid the term and concept of weakness. Instead, we believe that we all have strengths in varying degrees. Some are less than others. If a certain capacity is required and a person does not have enough, it can be under-productive, and we call it an “under-strength.” It can be increased. If a strength is being applied more than is necessary, it is excessive, and we consider it to be counterproductive.
Instead, talk about how a person can build the strengths that they want and are required and how they can work to apply only as much capacity as is useful and productive in any given situation and no more or no less.
Art ─ We avoid the term “art” when referring to children’s work, as in “art work,” or to certain materials in the program, such as “art materials,” or apply it to any area of our curriculum. Since children learn holistically, we work with them that way, and we integrate the use of many materials, processes, and concepts that would traditionally be associated with certain disciplines or fields, such as the fields of art, science, math, and literature.
Instead, use the terms “children’s work” or simply “materials.”
Feelings ─ We will be careful when using the terms related to “feeling” We consider these to be primarily emotions, body sensations, and general unspecified dispositions. If we have a thought, belief, desire, or a conceptual notion or attitude, we label it as such and say “I think …” or “I want …” or “I believe …” Or, we state the outcome of our thinking, such as, “It’s time for you to come in now.” Rather than, “I feel it’s time for you to come in now.”