“Words, and how you say them are so important,” stated Tova Brown, OTR, during our interview. As I asked Tova questions about the concept of using words purposefully with our children, her (absolutely adorable), four-year-old son, played beside us.
Narration to develop language, understanding, awareness, and outward focus with your child:
It is exciting when our children are young to experience them learning new words. Tova suggests using narration all throughout the day to encourage your child’s growth.
“Narrate what you are doing and describe what is going on throughout the day,” suggests Tova. She explained that using descriptive words, and continuing to communicate with your child, even as you are doing tasks around the house, is valuable for their development. This technique is making them aware of the world around them and giving them an outer focus. As they grow, it helps them communicate in a mature way.
Tova got up to move some items around the therapy room to make it more suitable for her son to play.
“Mommy is moving the blue mat on top of this circle mat and then getting out that scooter from under the ramp. Now mommy is sitting down in this rolling chair at the table and is going to talk to the lady while you play.” She started laughing as she realized she was inadvertently giving an example of how to narrate your actions throughout the day!
“When you are using words with your children the key is: self-regulation, self-regulation, self- regulation!” she exclaimed. “Be aware not to communicate with your child in anger or frustration.” Inevitably, you will get frustrated sometimes.
“When you are frustrated remove yourself until you are regulated.” It didn’t take long for Tova’s son to want some of mommy’s attention, of course. He was playing with therapy balls, and rolling on the ramp and he wanted to make sure mommy saw all of the amazing things he was doing. Tova talked to her son a lot even while we interviewed. She was sure to give him the attention that he was craving. She used a lot of descriptive language when talking with him. She was effectively modelling the things that she was communicating to me in our interview.
How to say no:
You can say no to your child. When you say no, try to explain the reason at least 25% of the time. Tova demonstrated this as the short interview became longer and her son started diving into more vigorous activities in the room.
“No, do not stand on the scooter. You will get hurt. That is for rolling on your belly. Lay on the scooter and use your hands to push yourself around. That’s right! You are using your strong arms to push yourself around on the scooter!” Tova expressed to her son.
She told him no, but gave him a reason. And verbalized the correct way to enjoy himself on the scooter.
“So often, we are hurried and we just say “No,” and our children can gain understanding. They can gain the understanding of why we are saying no.” explained Tova. In addition, it is often easier for a child to accept the limitation when they understand why. “They can also understand concepts when we explain things to them.” For example, they can understand how a meal is made, or the concept of being patient while waiting in line, or a cause and effect – falling off the scooter is going to hurt.
The use of OR statements:
Tova needed to address the scooter standing multiple times and decided her little guy needed a change of scenery if he stood on the scooter again. She quickly used an “or statement” to engage him in the decision-making process.
“Sweetheart, you may choose to lay correctly on the scooter or you may come look at this book here in this chair at the table.” She told me that there is an important thing to remember when making an “or” statement with your child: you should be okay with either option that your child chooses.
The use of “Sometimes”:
“Sometimes is such an effective word to use with your children,” said Tova. “I have seen so much success with my clients and my own children. I use the word “sometimes” a lot.” She went on to explain how this word helps with emotional flexibility. She said you can use it many ways throughout the day. Help your child learn that sometimes we win when we play cards, sometimes we lose. When we go in the car, sometimes we go to school, sometimes we go to the grocery store. Sometimes we feel tired at bed time, and sometimes we don’t, but we still lay down. Sometimes we get ice cream for a special treat, and sometimes we do not.
The goal of using the word sometimes is to help your child understand and accept unpredictable circumstances. Many children struggle with rigidity. This will increase their flexibility and decrease their anxiety as unexpected things come during their day.
Did you know it is never too early to start communicating descriptively and fluently with your child? You can talk to a newborn about what is going on around them, and as they get older, you can bring in more complex thoughts. The best part about this powerful strategy of child development is that you do not need to set aside any extra time to focus on it. You can truly incorporate word power into every moment of your day.
Notice a moment where there is silence today, and jump in – Fill it up with words!
This post was written by Krista Caines, OTAS, a fieldwork student, currently studying at Jefferson University to become an occupational therapy assistant. She spent eight weeks shadowing at The Thrive Group.