What does ‘respectful communication’ mean?
The Australian Early Years curriculum gives some guidelines, specifically:
- Greet children individually, upon arrival and departure;
- Listen with attention and respond;
- Explore each child’s interests and concerns;
- Model a positive and respectful communication style;
- Be accessible for a child to initiate contact;
- Respond to non-verbal cues;
- Acknowledge and accept a child’s feelings;
- Respond to a child’s mood;
- Promote a sense of fun and enjoyment.
Point 4 is the least clear and the most difficult, particularly for people who have not experienced this kind of communication in their own lives. It includes replacing any necessary ‘No’ with a ‘No, thank you.’ It includes consistently replacing ‘Don’t statements’ with ‘Do statements.’ Examples are: avoid saying “Don’t run in the classroom”, “No shouting!” and “Don’t push your friend!” Instead, say something like: “Classroom walking please”, “Inside voices please” and “Please be gentle.” Effective communication gives listeners something to aim for.
Thinking about the children around the child in question, in the example of negative language they hear words like ‘run’, ‘shout’ and ‘push,’ a negative auditory environment. In the positive example they hear ‘walking’, ‘inside voices’ and ‘gentle.’ Seeing that a lot of language processing happens almost unconsciously, the latter phrases encourage the kind of behaviour we would wish to see and the former does not.
More’s the pity that I still occasionally hear reports from parents visiting Early Years settings telling me of children being shouted at across the room. In my view this is noisy, disrespectful, indiscreet and extremely bad modelling. Unless there is real and imminent danger, it should never happen! If nothing else, it inflates the importance of a shout. If there was a really dangerous situation, the child would not listen either (if used to it). In extreme circumstances this could lead to avoidable loss of life! As with adults, children should be criticised in private and praised in public. THAT is respectful communication!
Finally, we have to ask: If this is the behaviour while there is a visitor in the room, what is the behaviour if there are no visitors?