By Ms. Mirae (Nido 3 Lead Teacher)
As Montessori Guides, we follow one simple rule. No matter their age, we talk to children like they are humans. Infants and toddlers learn differently than adults though and so the way we speak to them also needs to be tailored to their specific learning styles. Below I will outline a few of the ways children learn and how adults can alter their speech to meet their needs.
Positive Phrases: The way we speak to children can have a profound influence on how they react. Toddlers are learning so much and are constantly testing the world around them. So often much of what they hear in their first three years of life are adults telling them "No!" Most often this is to keep them safe and protect them. But if children are continuously hearing things like "no running" or "don't do that" they begin to tune out the words "no" and "don't." Suddenly we have brought the opposite of what we want them to do at the forefront of their mind instead of what we actually want from them. Rather than starting every sentence with "no" and "don't" I suggest using positive phrases such as "we walk" or "please pet the cat softly." This will help children understand what it is you actually want them to do.
Language Role Models: Adults are the language role models for children who are learning to speak. Children as young as one can have around 50 words in their vocabulary, which means that for the last 12 months of their life, they have been learning and picking up on the words we say to and around them. If they are consistently hearing adults using the words "please" and "thank-you," they will pick up on this and use these words as well. The same thing applies if they are hearing a lot of negative words in an unfriendly tone. Toddlers are especially receptive to their name and when adults are talking about them within earshot, either positively or negatively, they are beginning to understand and pick up on how we are speaking of them.
Praise vs. Encouragement: As parents and educators, we want our children to feel loved, appreciated, and proud when they do good work. So often we get stuck in a rut of praising our children for everything they do. When they learn to walk we cheer and clap and tell them how good they're doing. When they do something we ask, like throw their garbage away, we immediately praise them and tell them "Good Job!". And while we want to celebrate these big milestones as well as small moments, when we are constantly praising children we are creating in them this need for constant recognition for everything they do. If a child is constantly praised for everything, they will begin to seek this out and do things simply to be acknowledged by others. They lose out on feeling any sense of pride in themselves for what they have done if others do not say it was good. They begin to think, "why would I clean up my toys if no one is going to recognize that I did it and tell me it was good?" This can cause children to constantly seek approval from others as they get older. What we want from children is to develop their own sense of pride in what they do and to have them be intrinsically motivated rather than motivated by others. Instead of repeatedly telling children "Good Job," we acknowledge their behavior but immediately bring it back to them. "Thank you for putting your work away. It helps keep our house clean." Or "You walked! Doesn't it feel amazing to be able to move your body that way?" We can still show excitement and joy for the accomplishments our children make, but we always want to turn it back to them instead of on ourselves.