Conversations are key to relationships, and as children develop their language and listening skills, the communication habits of the adults around them can start to have a big influence.
Quality Area 5 – Relationships with children — reminds us about the importance of supporting children to connect with others and build positive, meaningful relationships through caring and responsive interactions.
Building secure attachments gives children the confidence they need to grow and explore their world with healthy curiosity.
Engaged in play but picking up what we say
Many educators have observed that children who seem engrossed in a particular activity have an uncanny ability to listen in on conversations when they diverge from the usual background chit chat. This can lead to all sorts of interesting questions.
For this reason, the importance of modelling respectful conversations around children at all times cannot be overstated.
To learn how to best respect the little ears that surround us on a daily basis, we spoke to Alison Donkin, the Educational Leader and Early Childhood Teacher at Gymea Community Preschool in NSW.
A responsiblity as providers of information and support
Alison says educators should be mindful of their conversations around children at all times and conscious of their responsibility as providers of information, comfort and connection. Respect should be conveyed in conversations with children, co-workers, and other professionals who visit the service, as well as the children’s family members. This teaches children appropriate forms of communication, including tone, turn-taking and active listening.
It is natural for children to gather information from their surroundings to support their learning. Conversations are a great way for children to resource their knowledge, even if the conversation is not intended for them.
In Alison's experience, if they hear it they will take it in.
"Within a preschool environment, especially when we are around the children, we should always be mindful that they are listening to us.”
Common conversation slip ups
Alison believes that educators should role-model respect in all conversations around children, regardless of the position they hold. Common mistakes may include:
- talking about children and their developmental stage in front of them or around other children
- talking about parents, carers or educators behind their back
- talking about their wild social life, although child-friendly conversations about catching up with friends and family and doing things they enjoy are appropriate
- not hearing a child call their name because they are too busy chatting with another educator
- accidentally swearing
Educators should also be careful to hold sensitive conversations with families somewhere private and these conversations should only be shared if they support the wellbeing of a family of child. If wider staff need to be involved to manage a situation, then these conversations should be held with staff in a more formal meeting, with the appropriate confidentiality settings in place.
In the case of a parent intercepting an educator in one of the communal areas to have a tricky conversation, Alison believes that there’s nothing wrong with saying: “Maybe we can talk about this later. Could we book a time that suits you?”
Importantly, Alison urges educators to avoid conversations that breach their service’s code of conduct, philosophy or the rights of the child.
The staffroom: A perfect place to share stresses and giggle over anecdotes
While the staffroom is part of the workplace and should be treated as such it doesn’t mean it has to be a silent place of reflection! Alison says the staff at Gymea Preschool have loads of fun in their staffroom, with plenty of giggles, but she says it is also used as a forum to share work stresses and personal experiences.
3 important rules to remember
Alison says the three most important rules for educators to keep in mind are:
- View every conversation as an opportunity to role model respect in conversations, including your body language, tone, eye-contact and how you listen.
- Always be mindful that someone may be listening to the topic of your conversation (a co-worker, child or parent).
- Approach every conversation the way you would like to be spoken to and when speaking to children think about how you would want your child or young family member to be spoken to by their educator.
Explore relationships with children in these upcoming training sessions:
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