Children can start learning character skills as soon as they are able to talk. And coincidentally, how we talk to our children has a huge impact on their ability to develop honorable traits, such as responsibility, trustworthiness, and dependability.
In her 2019 article, “Helping Your Children Learn Responsibility,” Marie L. Masterson lists four key points to speaking with children: (1) notice and narrate, (2) ask instead of tell, (3) put your child in charge, and (4) celebrate success.
I recently visited one of our classrooms and saw all these strategies in action.
“Notice and narrate.” The Master Teacher saw a boy choosing to not make a mess with his puzzle and said, “(Name of child), I really like that idea that you just said. You’re moving our puzzles to the table so that we don’t lose our pieces.” The Master Teacher told me that she always talks to the child by name to single out individual accomplishments so that children can have a sense of pride and ownership over what they have chosen to do.
“Ask instead of tell.” The Master Teacher explained to me that sometimes when a child complains of a stomach ache, it can be a sign that they are troubled about something. She waits for the child to tell her more about their feelings, and the child will often say what he/she is worried about. Changes in life, such as a grandparent leaving town or a parent picking up at a different time can cause anxiety children. If we assume to know what they are feeling, we may miss the mark as sometimes the child can tell us better what is going on. As adults, we can sometimes forget that the child needs time to respond verbally about what is happening or what they are being asked.
“Put your child in charge.” The Master Teacher saw that children were running in the classroom to get to a table. She said, “Now friends, how could we go safely to the table?” Then she waited for a child to tell her that they need to walk. Once a child has said that, some of them chose to walk. The Master Teacher told me, “They’ll do their own idea.” She likes to encourage them to decide what safe choices they want to make.
“Celebrate success.” A girl dropped a marker lid on the floor and a boy went under the table to retrieve the marker lid for the first child. The Master Teacher noticed and remarked, “(The boy’s name), how nice that you would give that lid to her.” The Master Teacher told the girl, “(The boy’s name) crawled under the table and got that marker lid for you.” The Master Teacher told me that she tries to use positive feedback as much as possible because children understand more than you think.
By remembering Masterson’s four strategies and practicing them every day with your children, you will become more confident with using these talking skills, and your child will become more competent at developing character and solving problems. Just as it is never too late to learn, it is also never too early to learn.
As we use language with children to help them develop character skills, we will see them making good choices more often. Before I left the classroom, a boy left the puzzle section in a mess to go play with blocks. The teacher asked that boy to return to the puzzle section to clean up. However, a second boy went to the puzzle section saying, “It’s okay. I’ll go do your puzzle for you.” The first boy responded, “Thank you. Now I don’t have to leave my building blocks.”