Do You Unintentionally Mock or Demean Children? How to Avoid Negatively Impacting Young Children With Your Reactions
Imagine – you are in a study group and you accidentally mispronounce a word or use the wrong word in your sentence. The group facilitator thinks your mispronunciation is kind of cute and funny so she starts to say the word the same way. It catches on and everyone is now saying it while they sort of smirk at each other. How would you feel? Would you be embarrassed and perhaps a little angry?
I was in a group of adults last week and someone did, in fact, use the wrong word in a sentence. It was an obvious error but no one repeated it. We just let it go. That’s what adults do because we know that repeating the error is mean. We didn’t repeat it because it would demean the person in our group. So why do so many adults to that to children?
A young girl had trouble with the letter L. The word “lollipop” sounded like “waweepop.” In the course of a 20 minute observation time in the classroom, I witnessed 3 adults repeat, “Waweepop” – one teacher and two parents. It is possible that the preschooler did not catch onto what I can only describe as mocking her speech issue but how does repeating her mispronunciation help her to improve her speech? It does not.
Unfortunately, adults too often think that behavior and reactions we would never exhibit in a group of adults is acceptable with children. The children look cute so we think it is cute to mimic them. Adults forget that our job is to lift them, to model for them who we would like them to become. That modeling includes honoring their ability to learn through observation and their development of self. I would never want a child to feel diminished by my reaction and so I must be intentional in my actions. That intentionality developed over many years of working with children. It was learned over the course of my career. I hope to save you some time by sharing the following thoughts... just a few ways you can avoid negatively impacted self-worth:
- Avoid mimicking speech miscues. Admittedly, I think some speech miscues are adorable when the children are 2 and 3 years old. They won’t be so precious when the child is 10 years old. To help the child as much as I can without being a speech therapist, I pronounce words correctly. It is important for children to hear words as they should be.
- Avoid physically imitating their movements. Young children are so cute when they dance, twirl and run around. When you try to imitate their motions, you aren’t nearly as cute (sorry, but you are not). I recently watched a young boy awkwardly try to reach a toy. He stretched his arm in a typically way that only young children tend to do. An adult immediately got up and imitated it. The child walked away. It is hard to say how the child felt about that moment because he cannot express it. Err on the side of caution and don’t chance the child feeling mocked.
- Don’t use the sentence, “You are being silly” in an emotional situation. Children’s emotions are very real to them. We need to teach emotional intelligence in the early childhood years. Part of emotional intelligence is the knowledge that we have a right to our feelings and we can learn to cope with them. They should not be dismissed or treated as if they are not permitted. Emotionality is part of the human experience. When children accept their own humanity, they learn to cope much quicker and with less angst. I, therefore, let them know through my words and actions that their emotions are not silly. They are what they are and we can learn to cope.
- Never say, “We never cry.” I am sad that people are still using versions of “Crying is not allowed” in their interactions with children. Crying is the physical response to sadness and sometimes to fear. It is allowed. Teach the child that sadness will pass. “You will be okay” is far better than the invalidating responses we too often see. There are many emotionally invalidating phrases that we use with children. It is actually acceptable to feel sadness, fear and frustration. Don't mock or mimic it. You feel that way sometimes, too.
The litmus test for the appropriateness of your responses to children is in this question – “Would I do that if an adult behaved that way?” If you would not – if you would be afraid of hurting the adult’s feelings or of seeming unfeeling – then don’t do it to the children. They really do sense and understand more than they can tell us and it becomes part of their self-esteem.
Are you looking for other ways to have more meaningful learning in your classroom? Sign up for my Dec. 22, 2016 webinar “Improve Your Circle Time: Make It Time Well Spent” – click on the title for details! Participate live or sign up to ensure that you get the replay in your email.
You can learn so much more from me online! “Helping Preschools Achieve with Cynthia Terebush” – An Online Learning and Support Community for Early Childhood Professionals. Now with individual sessions for only $ 15 and staff bundles for groups of people. Go to Helping Preschools Achieve for more details.
And in person….Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual consulting for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.
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