Saturday, March 3, 2012

What You Say Really Does Make a Difference!

Have you ever noticed how you can inherently change a child's view of something simply by your word choice and your own internal feelings on the event? 

I often have children in my preschool special education classroom who use equipment in order to move around with the other children.  I also have children in my classroom who have little or no verbal communication, who use sign language or communication devices to communicate with peers or who make little or no eye contact with others. 

This leads to many questions from children in  the other preschool classrooms when they first meet the children.   

While the other preschool children may have friends in their own classrooms with limited language or physical challenges, the barriers to communication and interactions can seem bigger with more equipment involved.  

Therefore, I have often heard the following comments from young children: 

Now, there are three ways, in my view, that I could answer these questions:

Question 1:  "He can't talk!"

I could say...
  1. "No, he can't talk"
  2. "No, he can't talk...but look he can smile at you!"
  3. "Of course he is talking...look at his smile and how he is bouncing up and down!  He is telling you he's so happy to see you!  He can't wait to play with you!"
Question 2:  ..."What is that thing?" (pointing to a walker or stander) 
  1. "He can't walk like you can.  He has to use a walker"
  2. "He needs that to help him walk."
  3. "Well, that's his helps him walk fast like you do!  Do you want to walk with him?"
Question 3:  ...the child simply stands and stares at the child
  1. "Go play"
  2. "He's in his stander so he can stand up."
  3. "Would you like to say 'hi' to _____?  I bet he would love that!  Here you can stand right here so you can say hi to each other!"
Finally Question 4:  The child tries to interact but then begins to lose interest when the child doesn't react in the way they anticipated he/she would.
  1. (To another adult)  I wish ______ would answer and look at the children when they want to play with him/her!
  2. (To the child who is struggling with eye contact and social interactions)  "Look at your friend!  Say Hi!"  (and then the adult walks away)
  3. (To the child who wants to interact)  "______ loves to play ball.  Can you go get a ball for us?  OK I'll stand with ______, you can stand here...ready...we'll bounce the ball to you"
Take a wild guess at which answers will create the most excitement about playing with and interacting with a new friend?  What happens if the child realizes that the adults in his/her life interpret the smiles, laughs and bouncing as communication?  What happens if the adults in the child's life assist in the initial interactions and then continue to assist in maintaining the interaction for a period of time until the children have a pattern and history of play that they can then draw from?  What happens if the adults in the child's life embrace equipment as a wonderful necessity; making it possible to engage in activities with peers? 

Our job, as educators, is to help break down those barriers that the children sometimes face with their peers!  Whether it's embracing a walker or stander, enjoying and appreciating the interactions that happen without any eye contact from a little guy or interpreting the non-verbal communication that happens with smiles, giggles and bounces; it is important that our own body language and verbal communication encourage the interaction rather than dismiss it! 

Of course, children need plenty of time WITHOUT adult interference and without adult support.  But, when we are supporting interactions we need to be aware that our own messages to the children are probably coming through loud and clear...whether we want them to or not!  And, finally, none of us are perfect! If we miss opportunities to assist in interactions with peers, we just try to make sure we catch another one at another time! 

Come visit me at the PreK and K Sharing blog as well.  My monthly contribution is all about balance in life!


  1. Oh my gosh, so much wisdom in your words. I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Temple Gandin yesterday about her experiences as a child on the autism spectrum and there's SO much truth to this!! My mind is still spinning from everything I learned and your post today reinforces that for me. Thank you!

    The Corner On Character

    1. Barbara- What a wonderful opportunity! We really can't pretend to understand what it must be like and how a child perceives his/her world without listening to those who have had those experiences!

  2. I heard a parent of a multiply handicapped young man speak about full inclusion. He said,he could always tell from informal interactions which young people had been in schools with inclusion classes and which had not.
    When my daughter, who did attend a school with inclusion classes, was five we went to Disney World. I turned around to buy ice cream and in a split second she disappeared. After a moment of panic I spotted her sharing a wheel chair with a little girl who appeared to have cerebral palsy. I must have said louder than I thought, that I planned to pull her put by her ponytail.
    "Please don't," the mother said to me.
    "Most children, avoid us, I can't tell you how grateful I am that she wants to sit next to my daughter."
    So you can only imagine where the seeds you sow blossom.

    And my daughter grew up to become a special education teacher.

    1. How wonderful! It is absolutely amazing how quickly children become used to various equipment and ignore it...or want to use it as well while interacting with their friends!

  3. This is a wonderful post! I teach students with multiple disabilities and many of my students have communication, medical, sensory or mobility aids and I hear these questions all the time. The amazing thing I have learned is that for the most part kids are just curious and once you explain something and demonstrate an open attitude they are very accepting.

    Miss Allison's Class

    1. absolutely! That's what I love about children- if the adults have a positive outlook on something, generally the children do as well!

  4. Hi! I'm Sharima. I agree with your post very much so. Children respond so differently depending on your choice of words. I love your positivity. I am your newest follower! Come and visit my blog when you get a chance.


    1. Hi Sharima...good thing you didn't "see" me on a bad day...I'm not always positive :) Although, that only seems to be with other adults not kids! I will definitely stop by and check out your blog!

  5. Pam, this post touches my heart! What a blessing you are to the children you teach. I know God is using you to do great things with little ones and grown-ups too!

    Have you ever heard of Conscious Discipline? It is the most amazing thing ever and is all about building your School Family. The way the children begin to see each other and help each other is amazing. They learn the language we use and then model it with others. I had a little one who's right side of his body was much larger than the other side because of tumors. The way my kiddos handled other kiddos who asked questions and made comments about him was amazingly sweet.

    I am your newest follower and would love for you to come visit me when you get the chance. =)

    Heather's Heart

    1. Heather I will definitely stop by and visit your blog! I have heard of Conscious Discipline and I agree- anything that empowers the children to feel a sense of community is especially helpful when children begin noticing things that may be different between friends and themself. The more we can model care and respect for others, the more the children will also care and respect eachother. Love the fact that the children in your room reacted in such a caring way with their friend! You clearly are forming a wonderful caring classroom community!

  6. Wow! This is so true, young children are very curious and ask lots of questions. I think its truly amaizing that you know how to answer these questions and I'm sure most sudents are truly accepting once they understand.

    1. Tiff- it's definitely taken some trial and error to come to a comfortable approach to answering these questions! In reality, the children are just curious and want to know that they have something in common with their friend!


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