Guiding Young Children in Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is another important element of child guidance. The words we use as adults strongly influence the behaviors of young children. An excellent beginning for effective verbal communication is the ability of the adult to be a good listener. Active listening is a technique that helps the adult be more effective in the communication process (Reynolds, 2008). The teacher begins by being open and approachable and listens carefully to what the child is saying and doing. Then, in his own words, the teacher repeats back what he has heard the child say. “Damion, it sounds like you are mad at Ian because he took the truck you wanted to use.” When the teacher uses active listening, he lets children know he is trying hard to help them identify the feelings they have and respond to those emotions in appropriate ways.
Another form of verbal guidance is called redirection. Two-year-old Andrew is fascinated by climbing and is preparing to move from his chair to the nearby table. His teacher, knowing Andrew’s love of books, takes him by the hand and says, “Andrew, let’s go find a book to read.” Marion (2007) suggests that for the youngest children, redirection becomes a way to divert or distract the child from an undesirable behavior into a more appropriate activity. For older children, teachers can verbalize a substitute for the problem behavior: “Rachelle, you will need to get your own blocks from the shelf. Martin is using those.”
When teachers initiate verbal messages, they should use positive directions, telling the child what to do, rather than what not to do (Miller, 2007). When an adult says, “Don’t jump off the table!” it is almost as if the child does not hear the “don’t” and is further encouraged to engage in the inappropriate behavior. In addition, don’t statements fail to tell the child what it is you would rather have her do. The statement “Climb down off the table, please” clearly identifies what it is you expect and makes it easier for most children to comply.
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