“Use your words.” It’s a statement that families and teachers often use when dealing with upset children. But, as we all know, this is often easier said than done. We use our words but how can young children, still in the egocentric stage of development, tell us how they feel rather than resorting to actions? And these actions can range from hitting to crying loudly so you can’t reason with the child. How can we get children to use their words?
One of the key things to remember is that our understanding, as adults, about this statement is different than a child’s understanding. We need to help children know what the statement means before they become upset. When children are talking in a normal and calm situation, you can reinforce the idea of using words by simply saying, “I like the way you are using your words.” For example, if a child says, “I would like more potatoes,” you can compliment him for using his words.
If you notice two children in a classroom sharing crayons, help them see that this is what you mean when you say, “use your words.” You can reinforce whatever you see by saying, “It makes me feel so happy when you use your words to ask for the yellow crayon.” This gives children an important background in what the phrase means.
You can also teach children an important sentence to fill in with feeling words. In the scenario above, the child could say, “It makes me feel happy when you share your crayons.” I often give children the starter phrase, “It makes me feel ____________________________ when you ___________________________.” We practice this phrase, even in calm times.
When a situation escalates to crying or yelling at another child, you can ask the angry child to explain how he feels. So, for example, a child might say, “It makes me feel mad when you won’t share the glue.” If you have practiced this enough times in a calm situation, chances are better that the child will know what to say in a tense moment.
So, develop background in helping a child know what you mean by the phrase, “use your words” and practice saying “it makes me feel _________________ when you _______________.” Preschoolers are then more likely to talk about their feelings rather than resorting to tears and negative actions. Of course, nothing is perfect and a developmental stage is a developmental stage but we can try!
This child has a background in “using his words.” He has something to draw on when he becomes upset. His mother will coach him when he is crying uncontrollably.
This child is upset in the grocery store. His mother gave him the phrase, “It makes me feel angry when you __________________” and he tearfully finished it for her by saying “won’t give me a cookie.” She was able to resolve the issue and continue shopping.