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When a child is struggling with self-regulation, I wonder what language we use to support them, to support that situation?

Do we use words that simply tell them what to do, or do we use language that empowers the child, gives them safe options to choose from.

Do our phrases actually help them begin to build the cognitive connections that will eventually empower them in their own self-regulation.

I learned the phrase ‘command and demand’ from a lovely early years practitioner I was supporting in a nursery; but it strikes a chord, it makes me reflect on my choice of words, on my practice.

When a child’s behaviour has become challenging, when they are struggling in a social situation, do I simply take control and use phrases that ‘command and demand’?
- ‘Sit down!’
- ‘Put your coat on’
- ‘Don’t run’

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly times when we all need to act as the adult, take charge of the situation and ensure everyone is safe. But we also need to challenge our own choices, check if we have fallen into patterns that mean we are constantly making the decisions and never allowing the child to think for themselves.

I was reminded of the effectiveness of using language to initiate interactions - ‘conversational turns’ at a fantastic conference in Newham. Julian Grenier from Sheringham Nursery School and the East London Research School shared with us research from Rachel Romea which reflected on the importance of our choice of language. It showed how it is not simply the number of words a child is exposed to that fires up connections in their brain, but actually the ‘conversational turns’ they have that build cognitive connections.

Often, making connections can be a problem for children when behaviour becomes challenging. Thinking ahead, thinking of others are things that children who are struggling with self-regulation find difficult. It is for these very reasons that we need to give them safe opportunities to make connections, consider connected consequences supported by connected adults.

When we know that the outcome of children making choices for themselves, within our supportive context, will not cause them problems or result in them feeling anxious then we can gently begin to factor in choices, both in the interactions we have with our children and in those they have with others.

Below are just a few simple ways that we can support those who are struggling with self-regulation but if you would like to know more, do join me for one of my CPD opportunities (current events provided) - or do get in touch to talk about how we can support self-regulation and make training sustainable for you right now. Whether in person, online and interactive or a tailormade visit to support your school or setting, I would love to know how I can help you, your families and your teams to take your learning further.

When they are struggling with self-regulation…

  • Avoid simply ‘command and demand’- make time for human conversations when all are calm
  • When it is safe, factor in simple choices ‘ Will you play on the scooter first or play with the truck?’
  • Avoid ‘don’t’. If you have to give an instruction do it with words that give a positive picture . Instead of ‘Don’t spill your drink’ say ‘Hold your cup with both hands’
  • Model the language used for positive relationships ‘Caspar, please will you pass me the fruit’
  • Cosy spaces and safe spaces- be sure there are places the child can safely choose to go to ‘come back to calm’


Promoting Physical Development, Prompting Language, Provoking Learning

1 October @ 9:30 am - 4:00 pm BST
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