Children using language modelled by adults

Children will repeat language they have heard used elsewhere. This can of course be both helpful and unhelpful. Being mindful of the ways in which we speak to others, and how we explain our feelings and/or decisions, is crucial when we are working with children. As they are ‘finding’ their way in relationships modelling positive and assertive language to them can be very helpful.

The examples provided below show how children can ‘take on’ the language they hear modelled to them by adults. 

Example 1

4 year olds in a nursery. One child tells another for the first time that he doesn't want her to always choose what they play.

Child Alice: [To Practitioner Beth] Issac doesn’t want to play with us anymore. [accusatory tone]

Practitioner Beth: Well sometimes we like to go and have a look at the other things going on in Bumbles and maybe we might want to play some different games; it doesn’t mean we are being unkind.

Around 10 minutes later Isaac returns to Izzy and Alice.

Child Isaac: Izzy, I am not playing with you today.

Child Izzy: Why not, Isaac? But I want to play with you.

Child Isaac: Well sometimes I want to do other things than what you want us to do.

The following week Izzy and Isaac are playing on the computer.

Child Isaac: Shall I put that on there? [points to screen]

Child Izzy: You don’t have to ask me Isaac it’s your turn.

Example 2

Practitioner Kate: Please don’t sit there George. Tables are not for sitting on.

Later that day, as another child Louis notices Alice sat on the edge of a table.

Louis: Tables are not for sitting on, chairs are for sitting on. Don’t sit there Alice.

Example 3

A number of the practitioners in the preschool use terms of endearment such as darling. The following was noted: 

Practitioner Irene: Would you like to come and have your snack, my darlings?

During free play: 

Child Liz calls: Would you like to play parties, my darlings?


Practitioner Clare: Goodness what a beautiful picture, you must have spent a long time sticking all of those feathers to make a bird.

Later on in the day.

Child Henry [to child Bethany]: That is a very nice card; it must have taken you a long time, well done.


Of course we all have funny stories of children embarrassing adults, usually family members by copying language they have heard, which in hindsight we may rather they had not! Perhaps you could share some of these stories with a peer.