Talking Point: say what you mean, mean what you say

Recently I had a discussion with a practitioner who was observing displays of new, highly emotional behaviour in a 3 year old he works with. After a quick review of general development (in particular, her recent development of expressive language – she had recently begun talking) and interactions (between the child and practitioner, the child and others and self-talk during solo play), I identified a key element to these new outbursts of explosive anger and sadness.

Before each high intensity display of emotions or a strong refusal to follow a direction, the practitioner had given the child choices. We talked about the purpose of this, particularly the benefit to children’s independence and autonomy. However, the key issue with these choices were that they were false. For example, he asked:

  • ‘would you like to take your boots off?’ (there is a ‘no shoes’ policy indoors)
  • ‘shall I peel your yoghurt lid for you?’ (yoghurt was opened when she didn’t answer immediately)
  • ‘would you like to do xxx or xxx?’ (one resource wasn’t actually available)

I led the practitioner in shared reflection (coaching technique) and together we identified some ways that he could ensure communication with children was clear, that choices were purposeful (and not false!) and took in to account the child’s new expressive language skills. We revisited ‘the communication chain’ and reflected on all those complex steps that have to occur before a child can successfully hear, understand, think about and respond to a single question.

The Communication Chain

In our follow-up conversation two weeks later, he reported a much happier atmosphere – with no big upsets. The practitioner commented ‘She seems to pick up new words every day, she doesn’t stop!’ and that he found interactions and behaviour generally had improved across the setting.

Have you had any recent behaviour mysteries or communication challenges?


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