Our Huddle Up team members weigh in on how they use language in their program with teenagers.

By Momentous Institute | Mar 27, 2017
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Our Huddle Up team members weigh in on how they use language in their program with teenagers.

Language is important and we are very intentional with what we say and how we say it. Some general rules we try to follow are:

  • Use positive language
  • No shame
  • Give the kid a voice
  • Redirect negative behavior
  • The list of No’s:

Instead of, “Stop talking!” we say, “Let’s all quiet down.”

Instead of, “No hitting!” we say, “Let’s be gentle with our hands.”

If a child is having a hard time, we don’t need to stop and call attention to that one kid. Instead we can do a huddle up and take a moment to breathe and move on. Sometimes we don’t even need to talk about what happened, and other times we’ll talk about it in general terms, such as, “It looks like this activity is challenging for us today. Who has something to share that might help us be successful in this activity?”

If a child is doing something like standing up when he’s supposed to be sitting, instead of saying, “Jonathan, please sit back down”, we might say, “Who can remind us all of the expectations right now?”

While language is important, we don’t want to be doing all the talking. It’s important that we hear the kid’s voice. So if a kid is having a hard time and getting angry, we wouldn’t start in on a lecture about anger. Instead, we’d say, “It looked like you were angry there. Can you tell us about a time that anger was not a problem for you? Or a time when you felt angry but you were able to calm yourself down?”

Of course occasionally we hear rude or disrespectful language from the kids in our program. While we don’t hover over them and squelch their expression, we do have to address anything that could hurt or offend another person. It is important to be mindful of the intentions of the message (are they making a joke, or are they trying to be hurtful?) and reflecting with the child about what he/she just said. Instead of a harsh reprimand or punishment, we simply try to redirect negative behavior. If we overhear something hurtful (or are on the receiving end of it), we might say something like, “Woah, hey – can you try that again?”

It probably goes without saying that we avoid plenty of language, too. We don’t engage in derogatory, hate-filled or disrespectful language. This includes, but is certainly not limited to words and phrases such as: stupid, dumb, idiot, ridiculous, “You’re driving me crazy”, “That’s annoying”, “What is wrong with you?”, “Are you a little girl?”, “You’re acting like a baby”, “She can do it – why can’t you?”, “Man up!” and anything else along those lines. We know that everything we say, and don’t say, is modeling for the kids appropriate use of language – a skill that they’ll use throughout their lives.