Word Play (Card 2)

This next card has the following guidance on it…

“I use my words to GUIDE rather than to DIRECT”
“My words can provide opportunities for thinking and growth, or they can deny those opportunities.”

This is one of my favorite concepts. Our words are so incredibly powerful not only in the meaning but in what they can teach. You can easily use your words to direct your child step by step to complete a task or participate in a game; or you could use your words to provide enough information that your child can discover the opportunity available in the task or game on their own. We all have those aha moments when we finally figure something out. The feeling of pride after working something out can do so much for our self esteem and desire to continue learning. One of the first things I start working on with parents is how to be mindful of your use of words. I find it fun and playful to have parents start changing their language with each other before they jump in with their kiddo. Therapy is often so serious and to me this is a time to let loose a little while learning a valuable concept for your child’s future. Below are two different scenarios for you to imagine and at the end of this blog decide which situation you want to be the student in and why. Then, take the ideas and play around with your spouse, family members, or friends until you get the hang of it. Before practicing any strategies with your child I always advise consulting with a program certified RDI consultant.

Welcome to Kindergarten! today is the first day of school and there is so much to learn today. Our friendly teacher Mrs. Jones will be helping you learn what to do in your new class. As you enter the room Mrs. Jones eagerly comes up to you and says “Hi” and before you can respond mom nudges you and softly whispers “say hi to Mrs. Jones.” You go along with mom’s request even though you wanted to not only say hi but also wanted to tell Mrs. Jones about how you picked your new dress special for today. Mom lingers around for a while and as all the kids start to pile in with their coats and backpacks filled with snacks and supplies you start to wonder what will happen next. Mrs. Jones says “hi” to the whole class and explains that your backpacks will go in the cubby with your name. Your jacket will hang on a hook. Your school supplies will go on the large table at the back of the room. Your snack can go by the sink. You mentally take a moment to look at each place and before you can get ready to move, mom is ready to help. “Go put your coat on the wall” says mom. You follow her directions but your backpack is really heavy and you wanted to hang that up first. As you slowly place the hood on the hook mom is there again. “Go put your snack by the sink”… this backpack is really heavy and its starting to hurt. You stomp over to the sink and mom notices you are not too happy. Immediately mom starts to ask questions “whats wrong?”, “do you feel sick?”, “are you scared?”, “maybe your hungry, did you eat enough breakfast?” Before you can respond and let her know how heavy your backpack is mom scoots you along to hurry and get these tasks done. She quickly tells you to “put your school supplies on the table” and before you can get it done your backpack starts to pinch your shoulder and you fall down on the floor crying. You can’t even get the words out to tell mom that you are hurting and want to put your back pack away. You don’t want to get in trouble for not listening but you are really hurting. You think to yourself… “I wish mom would just let me do this myself… my way.” I don’t think I’m going to like Kindergarten very much.

Welcome to Kindergarten! today is the first day of school and there is so much to learn today. Our friendly teacher Mrs. Jones will be helping you learn what to do in your new class. As you enter the room Mrs. Jones eagerly comes up to you and says “Hi” and you are feeling a little shy but when you look at mom and she puts her hand out to shake Mrs. Jones’s hand you know that she is an ok person and put on your best smile before saying “Hi, my name is Anne” and Mrs. Jones compliments you on your special Kindergarten First Day of School Super Special Dress. You eagerly tell her about the shopping day when you found it and how it hung on your door for days before you could wear it for this special day. As you join the other kids on the floor rug your mom lingers around to watch. Mrs. Jones tells you where to put each item… your coat on the hook, your backpack in the cubby, your supplies on the table, and your snack near the sink. To yourself you think “I can do this!” You start to get up and realize that your backpack is super heavy. Your first stop is the cubby to put down your backpack. There you meet a new friend Sue. She has a special dress too. You were talking a little too long to Sue so mom comes over to check it out. She asks you “are you going to wear your coat all day?” then you remember, you have things to do. You run to hang up your coat and start to head for the floor rug to sit down. Mom quietly comes next to you and tells you how good you did at putting your backpack and coat away. Then to herself she reads off the list on the board… “backpack, coat, snack, and supplies…” Oh no! You jump up to go to your backpack and pull out your favorite snack berries and yogurt. As you take it over to the snack counter you notice another kid has the same snack. Then you stop to think and go over that list again in your head… backpack, jacket, snack…. oh! supplies. All on your own you head over to get your supplies and set them down. This was a great morning! You can do this Kindergarten thing all on your own. You might miss mom some but you can handle it.

Looking back at these two situations there is one thing alone that changed them, communication. In the first situation everything was about direction. There was no room for self discovery. In the second situation mom modeled some interactions and used feedback and her own thought to help the girl figure out what is next. These of course are made up situations and not real life but words can truly have that strong of an impact. Words can be used for discovery and growth in small moments every day. Instead of telling your child to go get their shoes you can let them step outside barefoot as your are ready to leave and make a simple comment about how hot or cold their feel will be to help them discover that they need their shoes. Before prompting your child to say Hi to someone model it yourself and then give them some time to process and say Hi back. They might surprise you with what they can do. If your child’s chore is to set the table and they have put all the plates down but seems to have forgotten silverware. Instead of telling them about it grab a fork and start tapping it on the counter. If that doesn’t work make a statement “I guess we are eating with our hands today.” I think you get the idea. There are ways to use words and communication including gestures, eye gaze, facial expressions, body language, and pauses to prompt your child to think about what they should do and to make their own discovery about their next steps. Just like you, they will feel pride in their accomplishment and will want to make more discoveries. You will be building a mindful in the moment thinker and problem solver instead of a child who is following directions and waiting for the next directive to move forward. Keep in mind that these strategies are best used with a certified RDI consultant because the framing of each situation will be unique to your child’s strengths and needs. So for now, my challenge to you is to make a list of times you are directing the people in your life regularly and then make another list of how you can reword those directions to be an opportunity for discovery. Feel free to share any fun opportunities you have had playing around with words in this way. For questions or private comments email me at


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