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Embracing a Positive Language Approach

Part 1: Saying Goodbye to Negative Language

The way we speak to and around our children directly impacts the way they feel about themselves and how they interact with others.

Every member of the Rose and Rex team is deeply passionate about positive language. Whether we are educators, parents, or parents-to-be, we are mindful of the way we speak to the children in our lives. Led by our Education Director, Lauren Vien, we have made teaching and exploring Positive Language central to our mission.

Curious about what it means to embrace a positive language approach? Let’s start by saying goodbye to negative language!

Here are 3 strategies to try during challenging moments:

Negative language can be very confusing to a child. When you tell a child what not to do, you are not providing her with any information about what she should be doing. In my experience, as both a teacher and a parent, nearly everything you want or need to say can be expressed through positive language. Everything. For many families, meal times are especially challenging. (My son is approaching 2 years old… I get it!) Smile. Try to appear calmer and more patient that you actually feel. Offer clear, positive statements that help your child understand exactly what’s expected of him or her.

When a baby or young toddler begins to experiment with hitting, try saying, “Gentle hands, please. You can tickle or rub my arm gently.” Though hitting occurs when a child’s body is unregulated, it also serves as a way to socially connect with others. It certainly gets someone’s attention quickly! Physically demonstrate specific actions to help your child understand that safer, more appropriate alternatives exist. The next time you witness hitting, offer the same simple suggestions. Repetition is incredibly helpful when providing a child with positive alternatives to negative behavior. This approach can help children develop a clear understanding of the many positive ways they can interact with others. Looking for a place to practice? Seek out a communal sandbox. Shared spaces provide endless opportunities for young children to experience and resolve social conflict.

Speaking of sand...

Positive language prompts empower children to play creatively and independently, with minimal intervention.Sometimes an adult presence is needed.  If you’re eager to support your child’s play without hovering or interjecting safety/kindness reminders every 2 minutes, give the following strategies a try: 

  • Use clear, positive statements like, “Sand stays inside the sandbox”. This language illustrates how to play safely beside his peers, rather than emphasizing a negative behavior.
  • Positive language paired with physical demonstration is a winning combination! If your child’s hand is full of sand and she mischievously glances your way, she may need more than a verbal reminder. Scoop up sand in your own hand and gently drop it back into the sandbox while saying, “Sand stays inside the sandbox”. 
  • Offer 2 positive alternatives as choices. “You can put the sand in your bucket or use your sand to fill this big hole!” 

Sometimes a parent’s greatest challenge is knowing how and when to take a step back. Once the unsafe/unfriendly moment has passed and you’ve provided your child with guidance or alternatives, give him some physical space and simply observe his play.

We hope that you will continue to follow along with our Positive Language Series. We are currently offering positive language workshops for parents in NYC and plan to include virtual workshops and products for our far-away-friends in the very near future, as well!

About the Author
Lauren Vien taught in private Manhattan preschools for over a decade before joining the Rose & Rex team as Education Director. With a masters in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from NYU, Lauren is deeply passionate about positive language and developmental play. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two young children, Henry and Violet. Family pastimes include building with couch cushions, preparing plant-based meals, and scooting to neighborhood playgrounds.
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