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!

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