Responsive language: Alternative language with real life situations 

The words we use daily with children matter. How we communicate and the words we use with children has a great effect on the relationships we build with them. UNICEF (n.d.) explains that ‘Every interaction you have with your child is a form of communication. It’s not just about the words you say: The tone of your voice, the look in your eyes and the hugs and kisses you give – all convey messages to your child.’ These can have a direct impact on how a child acts, feels, and responds to a situation.  

Our language is powerful and it’s our role to know how to use it effectively with children. As Meg Anastasi (2022) says, ‘Speaking respectfully with children will help them learn how to speak respectfully with friends and adults, contributing to their social and emotional development.’   

‘Be careful.’ 

‘Stop doing that.’ 

‘Don’t hit.’ 

What is the child learning here?  Why do they have to be careful, stop or not hit?  

The child thinks… ‘Do I stop walking, stop talking or stop throwing? Why can’t I hit? I’ll start to kick instead.’  

We need to give children the tools to learn using clear, purposeful and explicit language that will support learning and growth in children and adults. The Teach through Love Conscious Communication Cards armed us with alternative language for real-life interactions in the early childhood setting.  

Here’s what works for us: 

  • Be clear with what you’re trying to say. Ask yourself: Will the child understand? What do you want them to do or be aware of?  
  • Mimic their feelings or expression. This will validate their emotions and help them feel respected and safe.  
  • Model what you’re saying, giving children the tools to communicate non-verbally.  
  • Be open to admitting you’re wrong to children. This gives you an opportunity to be relatable, and they will see that you are still learning and making mistakes too. 

How would you feel if someone told you, ‘Shh, you’re okay’? Would you want to go to this educator after your feelings have been dismissed?  Let’s re phrase this: ‘You look sad, it must have hurt when you tripped over. How can I help you?’ Would that change how you responded and regulated your emotions? 

Would you get even more frustrated if you were told, ‘Rach had the bike, give it back’. Think about what a child must be feeling. How else could we respond? ‘Kate let’s give the bike back to Rach. It’s hard waiting but you can have a turn when she is finished.’ Do you feel validated and heard after this response?  

Put yourself in a child’s shoes. It is overwhelming navigating the world, feeling new emotions and connecting with others. Think about the language you use and how it might affect their relationship with their emotions and the connections they hold with you.  

All images are provided by the author.


Anastasi, M. (2022, November 14). Tips for communicating respectfully with children. Community Early Learning Australia.!-blog/nov-2022/tips-for-speaking-respectfully-with-children 

UNICEF. (n.d.). How to communicate effectively with your young child. Parenting. 

ECA Recommends: Supporting language development in the early years

This module explores how language develops between birth and the age of six years. It focuses largely on ways to support the language learning journey of children who speak two or more languages, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The module also examines current theories of language learning and provides practical examples of ways to facilitate language development in the early years.

Kate Symington

I’m an Educational Leader who values challenge and professional push as a way to evolve my pedagogy. I find joy in sharing my knowledge with others and supporting, mentoring, and learning from fellow educators. I’m a strong advocate for respectful care and meaningful relationships. I. Children are intelligent, emotive, and brave, it’s our role to nurture and promote this image in our communities.

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