Communication and the words we use during our day with the children at Tumbleweed, can be a rich opportunity to offer ways to connect, process feelings, and even build neural pathways. It is also an important way to hone in on what we consider the important work in early childhood in regards to supporting emotional intelligence, relationship building skills, and identity work.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the words I use to describe anything to the children in my care. I spend my days thinking and re-thinking through everything - it’s how my mind works and a powerful tool in building my skill and wisdom as a teacher. Recently I began to notice when talking to the children that at times I added a word or two to my communication which may indirectly minimize the emotion and activity of the children. I started to notice that I would say phrases like, “just”, “a little”, and other qualifying phrases when I was either describing a child’s emotional state or their behavior.
“You’re feeling a little angry”
“You’re just tired”
“They gave you a little push”
When I stepped back to really analyze my intention, I realized that these small words carry a heavy weight. It also brought to mind the ideal of childism, an often systematic condition that is prejudicial and/or discriminatory towards children. I recently came across an article regarding this topic, which was so beautifully explained by Sara from Happiness Is Here blog:
“You can likely see examples of childism every time you step out of the house or open up the internet. Every day, in many ways, children receive the message that they are less important, less deserving of respect, unequal, and inferior, whether we mean to send that message or not. It is so ingrained into our society the majority don’t even recognize it.”
This makes me wonder: How do our words, even our unintentional ones, make the emotions and actions children experience small and inconsequential? How can we start to see children as fully human from birth with a full range of emotions?
The natural answer for me was returning to Magda Gerber, founder of RIE, who talks about using tools like, sportscasting what you see children doing, integrating ideas of mindfulness, being objective and non-judgmental, being an active observer vs active participant, noticing emotions and actions as I see them, and modeling my own emotions and actions honestly and truthfully. So by removing the qualifying words, it transformed my communication with the children to come from a place of truth and reflection:
“You are feeling sad.”
“You are angry that your tower got knocked over.”
“They hit you! I can see that made you feel _______ (frustrated, angry, etc).”
Observing and verbally reflecting, while giving space for their unique feelings and experiences is the best way for us to support healthy, emotional intelligence. Our goal always is to show the children in our care that, “I hear you, I see you, I accept you.” That there is no emotion that is too powerful that we cannot handle, and we will give them the best way to process and learn how this is part of their identity.