Language Strategies for Parents
The more elaborate our means of communication, the lest we communicate. – Joseph Priestley
As a parent, you might, once or twice, have found yourself making a comment – something like this:
My child never seems to do what I ask! He always seems to do the very thing I ask him not to do!’
Well, you may be surprised to find that your child may have actually been doing exactly what you asked all along! Read on to uncover a simple language strategy that can help all parents to communicate more effectively with their children.
The Pres-School Years Are a Time When Language Blossoms!
During pre-school years, children experience rapid language acquisitions. As they learn about the world, they experiment with language by ‘trial and error’.
Every parent knows how delightful it is to be around pre-schoolers who are experimenting with their newfound and fast-improving language skills. Learning language is a skill that occurs so naturally, and yet it is neurologically very complex.
Consider that all humans first learn language by associating images of objects and living things with sounds. The brain creates an internal image of a thing and connects it with the sound.
Once learned, the information is stored in our brain, ready to be called up as needed. For example, once children learn and store what a tree is, you could ask them, ‘What is a tree?’ and they will access their created internal images of a tree and begin describing that particular image.
What is really interesting is that if you said to children ‘Do NOT think of a tree!’ they will still bring up an image of the tree in their mind. Once the object, thing or idea has been spoken, the mind automatically responds by accessing that image.
Try this experiment – I am going to ask you NOT to think of a juicy mango. Did you just recall an image of a mango in your mind, even though I asked you not to?
Of you did!
The Non-conscious and Conscious Minds – When ‘No’ Means ‘Yes’
The human mind has long been discussed in terms of having two main ‘divisions’ – the ‘conscious’ and the ‘non-conscious’ (or subconscious, or unconscious – the terms are quite imprecise).
Alternatively, we could think of the conscious mind as the General and non-conscious as the Soldiers who follow the orders of the General – most of the time.
Using the analogy of a computer, the non-conscious mind is like all the software programmes and files stored on the hard drive. The conscious mind is like the desktop – including the document or file you are actively working on at the moment.
The non-conscious mind is the storehouse of all the information that we have learned throughout our lives – and of all the automatic behaviours and reflexes which have been ‘hard-wired’ into us by our genes, through evolution.
Our conscious mind selects information from the non-conscious storage depending on what is needed. For example, all the language we acquire is stored in the non-conscious mind. So, when a child learns that an object with brown bark and green leaves is called a tree, the internal image and sound for ‘tree’ are stored in the non-conscious mind.
Only when we’re actively thinking and talking about a tree – or if we happen to be surrounded by trees – will the information we know about trees appear as if by magic into the conscious mind. It is important that our mind is organised into non-conscious and conscious, because it would be impossible to consciously think of all the things we’ve ever learned in our lives all at the same time- we’d go crazy!
We simply don’t have the capacity (the RAM) to think of everything we know. It would be the equivalent of opening up every programme, every document and every file on your computer simultaneously – the CPU gets instantly overwhelmed, and the system freezes.
Apart from the ‘day-to-day housing keeping tasks’ of constantly monitoring the body’s condition and states, and adjusting and fine-tuning every aspect of our physical function, the non-conscious mind has many other roles.
For example, it is designed to follow instructions in a direct, literal, non-judgmental and almost ‘robotic’ way. It does not make decisions because its job is to store and present information as requested. The non-conscious mind is also the storehouse of the imagination and emotions. There are so many functions within the non-conscious mind that it is not wonder scientists believe it is accounts for more than 90% (some say more than 99%) of our brain’s functions.
Of all things the non-conscious mind can do, there is one thing it does not do very well, especially when a human being is very young.
The non-conscious mind does not understand the words ‘not’, ‘no’ and ‘don’t’. So when we instruct it not to think of a tree, it still brings up an image of a tree.
Likewise, when we ask it not to run, it will think of running and send impulses to our legs to run. Luckily, as we get older, our lifetime of experience trains the conscious mind to become good at interpretation – at quickly ‘flipping’ the instructions to read:
‘If I shouldn’t run, then I should walk…’.
When children are young, however, they are inexperienced, so they have not yet developed this ability.
So, How Do We Say What We Mean?
Understanding how young children’s non-conscious mind works in relation to language will greatly assist the way we communicate with them.
When we grasp that young children’s non-conscious mind has not yet developed the ability to ‘flip’ an instruction containing a ‘not’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t’, we can quite easily change the way we give an instruction or ask a question.
We can assess whether we have asked what we want them to do or what we don’t want them to do. Consider the following example of how to change the common instruction we give children to ensure we state what we want, and not what we don’t want.
When I say… ‘Don’t run in the house.’
My child hears…‘Run in the house.’
So now I say… ‘Walk in the house.’
There is an art to ‘saying’ what we mean’ to young children, and you will be happy to know that it is easily learned. By stating what we want, we are using more positive language which will ultimately make communicating with our children far easier.
Adapted from Pre-school Parenting Secrets – The with the Sky, Chapter 4
Written by Brian Caswell, David Chiem and Kylie Bell
Brian Caswellis an internationally acclaimed award-winning author and a respected educationalist with over 35 years of experience in the areas of public and private education. As Dean of Research and Programme Development at MindChamps, Brian has dedicated himself to creating programmes that enhance students’ learning, active recall and thinking processes, taking into account the latest research into how the brain learns and stores information.
David Chiemhas a distinguished background in film, television and theatre and is widely acknowledged as an international expert in the integration of study, theatrical techniques and Champion Mindset Strategies. He is the founder, chairman and group CEO of MindChamps. David is a man who has crossed many bridges of success to achieve a remarkable synthesis of art, education and entrepreneurship.
Kylie Bellis a highly respected educator and researcher. With a Master of Education, she has specialized in Early Childhood research for several years. Kylie’s fields of expertise encompass educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, literacy, thinking and creativity, She also brings her extensive experience in drama and performance to her work with children.