Teaching children appropriate language: Part 2

How to teach your child appropriate language for different content, environments and individuals.

A little girl reads while a woman wraps her arms around the little girl.

Language is a combination of words, gestures and social skills that work together as a system to help us communicate with others. Language is the way that we express our thoughts, feelings and connect with others. Being able to communicate with others effectively is necessary for academic and life success. Teaching your child appropriate language is vital in their development of becoming a respectful citizen.

To learn more about teaching your child appropriate language, check out the first article in this series: Teaching Children Appropriate Language: Part 1.

What can I do to teach appropriate language?

There are things you can do as a parent or caregiver to help your child learn appropriate language. Creating routines and an environment where children can learn these critical skills can set them up for success in school and in life.

Try these tips from Michigan State University Extension to help your child learn appropriate language.

Set language boundaries at home

It is important to specifically identify what language rules you want to enforce in your home (avoiding cursing or swearing, using a quiet voice in the house, speaking when it is your turn). Remember to keep your language rules consistent in order to create a routine that your child can follow. Setting healthy boundaries that you can stay consistent with is vital in teaching appropriate language.

Be clear with your rules and consequences

Being clear with your expectations helps your child understand what you will allow and the consequences for breaking those rules. Let’s say that you have a family rule of using respectful language and the consequence for yelling is taking a break in their bedroom. When you follow through on the consequence for disrespectful speech, your child learns about your family values regarding appropriate language and those values are reinforced. Your child is not always going to respond positively to your rules and consequences but by modeling appropriate language, you can teach them through example how to disagree respectfully.

Be a good role model

Remember that children are constantly watching and copying you. In order for your language rules to be effective, you must also obey them. Using appropriate language not only sends healthy messages to your children, but also sets an example of the language that you will allow in your family. It is confusing when their parents or other adults model language that is forbidden for them. Being a good role model means using appropriate language in all contexts around the house. It can be very difficult to control your language when you’re experiencing intense emotions, like when you are stressed or overwhelmed. If you are struggling to control your language when you experience strong emotions, you can try to practice mindfulness techniques such as conscious breathing to relax and regain your composure.

Remember that language involves nonverbal communication too. Nonverbal forms of communication include gestures, movements and any other form of non-verbal output that relays a message. Modeling appropriate nonverbal behaviors is equally as important in your child's development of appropriate language.

Be aware of media and other models

We know that children learn from watching the people around them, but they also learn from television and media as well. Research from “Imitation of Televised Models by Infants” shows that with as little as 20 seconds of television viewing, a toddler of 14 months can repeat actions observed during videos. Imagine the impact that language in a show can have on your child when they watch an hour! Limiting exposure to inappropriate television, music and media can be beneficial in teaching children appropriate language.

Be aware of ages and stages

It’s important to be a good model and be mindful, even if your child is young! A child’s understanding of language develops much more quickly than their ability to communicate with language. Therefore, it is important to remember that even if your child is not speaking yet; they are constantly taking in the information they hear around them to influence their future behaviors. Using appropriate language based on your child’s age and development can be difficult when you have children of different ages because different things are appropriate. It is necessary to model the appropriate language for all members of the family when everyone is present in order to set effective rules.

Investing time in teaching your child appropriate language is not an easy task, although an invaluable one. Considering these aspects while teaching your child appropriate language can help their development of becoming a respectful member of your family, culture and society.

For more information about appropriate language, check out these resources from MSU Extension:

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