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Respectful Language

Routines: Involve Them in Their Lives

  • Let them know what you’re doing before you do it. This is respectful- no one like surprises. “I’m going to wipe your nose.” “I’m going to help you take off your diaper.”
  • Use appropriate words (penis, vulva, diaper, bottom), NOT cutesy words.
  • Use correct grammar- NOT “we are taking a nap” BUT “I’m going to help you take a nap”; “You do not want a diaper change, AND we are going to change your diaper.”
  • DO NOT offer a choice when there isn’t one. Saying “okay?” offers the opportunity for them to say, “No.”
  • “It will be your turn for a diaper change in two minutes.”
  • OR “Would you like your diaper changed now, or in two minutes?”
  • “It’s time to wash your hands.”  NOT  “Do you want to wash your hands?”

In Play: Narrate

  • Use descriptive language to make statements about a child’s play.  Your judgment is not needed.
  • “You stacked the blue block on top of the red block.”  “Wow! You jumped!”
  • Avoid adding your personal opinions. Their self-worth should be based on how they feel, not how you feel.
  • “You are wearing sunglasses.”  NOT  “You look cute in those sunglasses.”

Encouragement & Appreciation

  •  “You found a way to do it!” “Congratulations!” “Thank you!”
  • When a child looks to you for shared excitement, acknowledge the child’s pride in completing a task of their interest- it’s NOT about being good (NO good girl/boy or good job).
  • Say thank you for a task you asked to be done- it’s about your appreciation for their interest in your needs.

Guidance & Discipline

  • When a child is exhibiting an unwanted behavior, ask – is there a safe way for them to continue this need? – “You may not throw this block, it could hurt someone. But you can throw a ball, let’s go get one.”
  • When a child’s behavior is attention seeking: stay close, ignore, and if necessary block the child from other children for safety.


  • Provide support while giving them the space to work through conflict. Come close to a child who is voicing distress, but encourage them to work through the problem when there is no harm. “I see that bike is in your way. What can we do?”
  • When conflicts occur between children come close for safety- “I see Joe has the train, and you want it. What should we do?” pause “We have more trains, come with me to look.”
  • Stop any possible harm with- your body (block) or your words “Stop! I won’t let you hit Joe.” Then ask, “What is your hand trying to say to Joe?”

Emotional Moments: Acknowledge, Not Encourage

  • Allow children to have their own thoughts and feelings about a situation. If they fall, state “You fell,” then wait to see how they feel.
  • Allow children to cry. When a child is sad: “I see you're crying, it looks like you’re (insert appropriate thought ex. Missing mom).”
  • Avoid using “You’re okay.” How do you know? Clearly they don’t feel okay.
  • State how it appears the child is feeling to give them the words so they can eventually use them. Don’t oooh and ahh, just state it and continue working.
  • “It looks like you’re feeling frustrated.”    “You look happy to see your friends.”
  • “You did not want Mommy to go!”    “You want Daddy to come back now!”
  • Ask if you can give a hug, a hand, or some help and stay close until they appear engaged.