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What Should You Do When A Child Brings Inappropriate Language Into Your Early Years Setting?

We all want to encourage talk – but when the language used is inappropriate, it’s important to take action to resolve the issue, says Sue Cowley...

  • What Should You Do When A Child Brings Inappropriate Language Into Your Early Years Setting?

As we grow up, we all need to learn about what is and isn’t ‘appropriate’ behaviour in different situations. For small children, there is sometimes a gap between behaviours parents have modelled at home and what is viewed as appropriate in an early years setting.

One particular issue can be where a child picks up on inappropriate language and then brings it into the setting. As practitioners, we need to help children learn what is and isn’t socially acceptable in a variety of contexts

The scenario

Daniel was very quiet when he first arrived at your setting, but after a few weeks he started to come out of his shell. As he became more confident, you were surprised by some of the language he began to use. He wasn’t exactly swearing as such, but you heard him call one child a “poo-poo head” and shout “bum” at another, when he was angry about being left out of a game.

You had hoped that this behaviour might be a one-off occurrence, but Daniel has now unfortunately started to use similar words several times a day, whenever he gets frustrated. You’re not quite sure what to do next…

The issue

Young children often experiment with using language in inventive ways, especially when they realise that the words they use get a reaction. If the reaction they get is one of shocked disapproval, this may well exacerbate rather than resolve the issue.

Children tend to model the language they hear. They will pick up on what the adults around them say, as well as the language of friends and older siblings. A certain level of experimentation is normal, as young children get used to what is and is not socially acceptable in different situations. However, an important part of your role is to help children control their impulses and adapt their behaviour to suit the context.

Dealing with the behaviour

To deal with Daniel’s fruity language, try the following strategies:

1. Devise a coordinated response
As a staff team, discuss how you are going to react and respond when Daniel uses inappropriate language. Decide on a consistent approach that will be used by all members of staff at your setting. For instance, a staff member could ask Daniel to step away to one side for a moment, and discuss why his behaviour is not okay.

2. React calmly
Daniel seems to be looking for a reaction, so it is important for staff to respond calmly. The more he gains attention for inappropriate language, the more likely it is that he will repeat the behaviour to receive the reaction.

3. Talk to him
Encourage staff to talk to Daniel, to help him understand why these words are inappropriate. Ask him to think about how it feels for the other children when he says these things to them.

4. Praise Daniel’s good behaviour
Ask staff to focus on praising Daniel when he behaves well, rather than focusing on him only when he behaves inappropriately.

5. Raise the issue with the other children
It might also be useful to talk with all your children about how we use ‘kind words’, and how we make sure that we don’t say anything that might upset someone else.

Finding solutions

To help find a solution, it would be useful to identify why the problem is occurring. You will also need to help Daniel understand, manage and control his own behaviour.

• Talk to Daniel’s parents about what is happening, and whether there might be something going on at home that is causing it. Could Daniel be hearing these words from an older sibling, and if so, could they have a word with the older child?

• Consider whether Daniel’s use of toilet-related language could be something to do with toilet training. Perhaps he’s uneasy about using the toilet in your setting and is trying to cover up for his embarrassment?

• Talk to Daniel about other ways in which he can express his frustrations. For instance, in future he could walk away from a child who is upsetting him, or talk to his key worker about how he feels.

• Help Daniel figure out different ways to stop himself reacting instantly when he gets frustrated, such as counting to 10 or breathing deeply.

• You might want to try using a star chart to reward Daniel for each day he manages to not use any rude words.

Sue Cowley is an author and teacher trainer; For more information, visit www.suecowley.co.uk or follow @Sue_Cowley

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