Keeping a list of phrases in your mental “back-pocket” can come in handy in any occasion.
Here is 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, Ineed 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.)
A quick reference sheet (Spanish and English version):