Saturday, January 11, 2014

Soapbox Saturday: Why our words matter more than we realize

My son has recently started to make little books on his own.  He writes "words" in them or sometimes copies words that he has seen and illustrates them.  Last week, I went to pick him up from childcare and saw that he had made a book that was sitting on the counter.  I asked him if he had made book and he looked at me sulkily and said, "Yes, but Miss Sharon said I can't take it home because I used too much paper."  He used 5 pieces of paper to make his story-but he only drew on half of the paper for each sheet.  My dilemma is that I don't want to be the helicopter parent that solves problems or tries to contradict the teacher all the time.  As we were getting his coat on, I tried to help him problem solve solutions.  We ended up deciding that we could bring in 5 pieces of paper and then take his book home.  This is only the second "book" he'd written and I wanted to read it!  Here's what was a little heartbreaking for me.  You have a child (a boy nonetheless) who is starting to write his own stories-what a great early literacy step!  Is paper consumption really the lesson that we want to be teaching him?  Plus, I pay almost 900 dollars per month so you'd think I could get 5 sheets of paper as a bonus.  

As professionals working with children, our words are powerful.  As parents to our children, our words are powerful.  As adults in the community, our words are powerful.  It's easy to forget this as we need to share information with others.  But we can choose how we frame our thoughts-and we can choose what we want to communicate to the children and students with whom we work.

When I was around third grade, we were singing Christmas carols in church.  When we were done, a woman in our pew looked at me and said, "Wow.  You have a really good voice."  That's a simple compliment-but one that had a profound effect in my life.  I joined church choir and school choir and participated in plays and musicals.  I've always had a flair for the dramatic-so maybe I would have done this on my own.  But she had a choice with the words she used-she could have said "Wow, you sing really loud." This was also true but would not have resulted in the same results.  

My sixth grade teacher told me I was unorganized, bad at Math, a poor listener and in desperate need of a bra.  Seriously, there is NOTHING worse then overhearing your teacher say, "THAT girl needs to buy a BRA" when you are walking through the library with a group of your friends.  These things were also true-with the exception of math which I proved the following year with a more supportive teacher. My mom recently pulled out some old report cards of mine.  I made the comment that my sixth grade teacher really didn't like me.  What was interesting was reading my report card that year-everything stated that I excelled, was creative and with some help was making improvements in my organizational skills.  This is not the classroom teacher I remember.  Our words have power.  

There are two things that I challenge myself to do.  The first is to speak respectfully using neutral terminology when I am in front of the clients and the students I work with.  Many of them have challenging behaviors.  Many of them have significant delays.  I need to communicate about that-but I want to start by communicating the positive.  I make sure to focus on what I am treating them for vs. any maladaptive behaviors when I am communicating with their parents.  So I might say something like, "Today we worked on understanding concepts in and on and answering questions, Johnny was able to follow these directions when I gave him a point cue.  I think Johnny may have gotten tired of the activity as he started throwing objects at my head.  Next week, we are going to try to have a picture of "all done" to see if that will help him learn how to communicate that he wants to be done.  The sandwich approach is also really a good way to talk about clients.

The second thing I try to do is to take time to provide feedback or comment on my client's strengths.  I always have a list of strengths in my evaluation reports (attention to task, willingness to interact, imitation abilities etc.)  I try to comment on my client's strengths during our sessions.  I read a book awhile ago which suggested using phrases like "I'm proud FOR you" instead of "I'm proud OF you" to help children internalize their own sense of accomplishment versus relying on other's praise.  I try to use it sometimes but it does sound a little awkward when you are trying to say it.  

Sometimes these are strengths that we use in the therapy room, but often they are strengths that the child may exhibit in other areas.  I might say something like, "Wow, you really like to build legos.  I bet you have really good visual spatial skills."  Or "I noticed that you can talk a lot about computer chips, you seem to have a really good memory for details."

This is one of my preaching to the choir Soapbox's.  As Speech language Pathologists, we tend to be an observant, caring group of professionals who takes time to learn each child's strengths and weaknesses.

How about you?  What tips do you use to communicate with parents and your students?  Would you have taken the story home or left it at school to teach respect for your teachers?  Let me know by commenting below.  As always, I appreciate anyone who takes the time to share these posts with other's on Pinterest or Facebook.  


Jo said...

Great blog...I am sitting here in shock at what the teacher said and did. I love how you helped problem solve with your son by having him bring in paper. Being that I can get feisty at times, altho I've toned it down over the years; not sure if I would have said something on the side to the teacher. I think I would only because I'd want her to understand just what you said in your blog...that words have power.

Abby said...

Wonderful post full of powerful examples. Thank you for sharing :)

Schoolhouse Talk!

Cindy L Meester said...

Excellent points for all of us to think about. I was just thinking about something similar to this yesterday. One of the 1st grade girls I see was leaving her room to go work with another special education teacher. She was frowning and lagging behind. She has a tendency to do this and it would be easy to nag her along. But I thought about her little 6 year old brain and how she perceptions were a lot different than mine. So I have her a smile that I told I found in my pocket, gave her a hug and walked with her as she went on her way. So easy but how often we rush by with word and actions.

Chris Gerber said...

I teach a seminar on behavior modification and another on clinical writing. I like to stress that parents especially, along with our clients, need positives. To hear can't, unable, delayed, deficit, etc., those are words that discourage even though they are true.

May I please use your graphic and words in teaching the student clinicians? I would of course attribute the graphics and your blog. Thank you.

Speech2U said...

Cindy-I love that-it is really easy to rush our children without thinking of what they are processing.

Speech2U said...

You may! Thank you for asking.

Pam Dahm said...

I love this post! Nicely done!

annied said...

This is so true and I am glad you are putting words to many, all too often crushing, situations. I recently experienced a situation that has left me emotionally really and questioning all my strengths. Sad.

Mary said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I've had a post on this same subject in my head, but never put it in my blog. The things I remember from "friends" when I was growing up are still in my head. People just don't realize how hurtful they are.

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