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Tuesday 24 November 2020

The importance of Positive Language in the Early Years | Guest Post

 Why is positive language so important in the early years and how can you adjust your own language to be more positive?  Create a more positive behaviour management system and learn how to rephrase your responses to some common scenarios...

Today, I have Lucy from @home_ed_at_the_weekend writing a guest post for us all about the importance of positive language in the Early Years. You can find more information about Lucy and how to contact her at the end of this post...


Positive language plays an important role in the Early Years – both at home and within a childcare setting. Avoiding the use of negative or authoritarian language is an excellent tool for positive behaviour management. It also allows children to feel equal; part of a two-way, respectful relationship with their care givers - as opposed to being under the control of certain adults. 
Rather than always dealing with negative behaviour and picking up the broken pieces, using positive language allows us to prevent some negative behaviour and thus prevent the pieces becoming broken in the first place – at least some of the time, anyway. This is because it empowers children to believe in themselves & their choices and it fosters independence and self-confidence...

The importance of positive language - Lucy from Home Ed at the Weekend:

Positive language can be used in many different ways and for many different reasons:

We can use it to anticipate good behaviour – “I know you’re so good at tidying up!”

We can use it to set out expectations before beginning an activity or going somewhere – 

“I’m looking forward to holding your hand & playing I-Spy whilst we walk to school”


 “At the start of our new book, show me your gentle hands when you open the first page please”

Positive language also builds resilience & encourages problem solving:

 “How can we solve this problem?”
 “What would happen if…?” 
“Why don’t you try…”
 “Give it a go, I am here to help you if you need me to” 
What’s your solution?”

Positive language gives responsibility:

 “I need you to hold hands in the busy car park” 

“Please can you let me know when you see a safe place to cross the road”  

“Please can you remind me how to stay safe when using the climbing frame” 

 “Explain to the younger ones how we share nicely with our friends” – this particular use always seems to have endless opportunities, and the best outcomes; children really thrive on that sense of responsibility & I’ve seen many a child puff up their chest in pride & grin from ear to ear when they’re given some small responsibility in a positively worded way. To them, these small things are the big things.

We can also use positive language to replace negative language 

Often this is useful when children are asking for something you don’t want them to have at that particular moment:

“Can I choose what to watch on the telly?”

Instead of saying “No” we have the power to say something like “You can choose tomorrow” instead. My experience as a parent is that having some positive language stock phrases in memory makes me feel more empowered to manage behaviour effectively, manage expectations and avoid mood swings in both the children and myself.

Do you give your child compliments? I’m sure you do, often! It seems like a natural thing, because it is a natural thing to praise these wonderful little squidges we’ve created and are so proud of. But, what do you often say during these times? It can become so easy to give the same compliment over and over again. It’s also easy to be vague. 

Compliments such as “Great job!” and “I’m so proud of you!” or “Well done!” are of course very positive – but, used often, they lack substance a bit. When giving compliments, a child’s self-esteem and self-worth can be boosted even more if we give specific praise. 

You could try giving meaningful compliments such as:

“I really liked how careful you were with your friend’s toy”

“I heard you say a nice thing to your sister – that made me feel really happy”

“I’m so impressed at how hard you have tried with xyz”
instead of “Good job!”

“Thank you for listening so well – I really appreciate it”
(this can be simplified to “Good listening!” for younger children or children with limited understanding)

“Your cuddle made me feel really special”

“I love the different colours in your picture
” instead of “that’s amazing!” 

These more specific compliments allow children to re-imagine themselves, quite literally. When we say “good job” to their picture, they know we like it and we’re proud of them. But when we say “I love the colours in your picture, it looks like you chose them really carefully” they may just begin imagining themselves as a budding artist, as creative, as capable of having other fantastic ideas. 

When we say “I really liked how careful you were with your friend’s toy” we’re actually switching focus away from the toy and emphasising what a lovely friend they are – this makes them feel proud and therefore more confident with all their friends and maybe even more confident in making new friends, too. We have to show children all the different, amazing things they can become by acting like they already are those things! 

positive language in the early years

Initially, I didn’t find it an easy frame of mind to transition to...And, my children didn’t adjust to the transition seamlessly, either. It took practise from both of us – it was a new way of doing things to get used to – I had to remember to think before I spoke and my children had to adjust to different responses, which were often thought-provoking for them. But, it was certainly worth persevering with. After the period of adjustment, I noticed my children were less “fragile” with their moods, transitions became easier for them and they began to start solving their own problems more often. They realised that communicating was effective – crying and screaming wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the household wasn’t (and never will be) completely serene – but I noticed this shift change in their way of dealing with things and there was a bit more calm than before.

positive language in the early years

Another important aspect of positive language is learning to listen – I mean really listen, to your child. 

Positive language works both ways – for positive language to be impactful, there will be times where you need to listen to your child’s concerns and validate them; talk them through.

You may need to stop trying to readjust their expectations and readjust your own. The beauty of positive language is that it is more than just some stock phrases to whip out – it opens up real conversations with kids and teaches them real skills (though there will be times where those stock phrases you CAN just whip out become absolute life savers!). 

Positive language has an incredibly powerful impact on how a child views themselves, how high their self-esteem is and how stable their mood is. Thinking about how we talk to children may seem a bit la-de-da or airy-fairy (insert eye roll here) but much research shows its positive benefits for the whole family. It has a long-term impact, too – regular use of positive, respectful language with children reinforces the notion of treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Put simply, it increases the likelihood of children growing up to become respectful adults. The more respect a child experiences during childhood, the more thoughtful they are as adults and the more likely they are to be tolerant, compassionate adults. Furthermore, positive, respectful language sets a good foundation for more mature discussions, when they are appropriate, around topics such as consent or puberty.

If positive language sounds like something you can see the value of and you’d like to get started, here are some more phrases below to try:

They are Mickey’s stickers – you can watch him stick them or I can get you your own” instead of “no, you’re not allowed to do that”

“You can have a go next”

Lauren is playing with the train right now, would you like to do this instead?”

Instead of “stop waving the towel around” you could say “the towel is only for drying your hands – the streamer is for waving around”

“How can you do that differently so it’s safer?”

A bit about Lucy:

Lucy is a Mother of two wild-hearted boys and they all live with Mr Home Ed At The Weekend in rural Cornwall. Lucy’s eldest child has additional needs, which led to her interest in child-led play, a Montessori-inspired lifestyle and gentle parenting when she realised from a very young age he didn’t respond contentedly to more mainstream parenting ideals. This led her to delve deep into the merits of intentional positive language and a child-led family life rhythm. 

Although Lucy has no formal qualifications in the early years, she has devoted a lot of her time to researching child psychology, early years education and how to strive to be an emotionally intelligent parent. These motives were strengthened when she realised how important they would be in helping him to access formalised learning as well as the wider world around him. Over time, Lucy has enjoyed adapting educational opportunities to help her son enjoy learning and be the happiest square peg he can be in a world full of round peg holes. Over the years, she’s also reaped the benefits of these approaches with her neurotypical child and the family enjoys a home life that is full of open-ended play, Nature and, of course, the usual arguments, door-slamming and end-of-the-tether snippy exchanges that all households experience. 

Above all, Lucy is a fierce advocate of the importance of recognising what a child needs and defending your right, as a parent, to provide that; regardless of others’ opinions. 

Lucy has future aspirations to formalise her enjoyment of the Early Years, with the hope of gaining qualifications in Early Years Education, focusing on the importance of play, the Curiosity Approach, outdoor learning and positive/whole-child centred care. 

Instagram: @home_ed_at_the_weekend

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