Why should we “bMindful” about the language we use when talking to and about the young people we work with?
The words and language we use when talking to and about the young people we work with matters. Language is powerful and can trigger strong emotions, it can also create a sense of safety providing a safe environment for conversations and interactions that can support emotional wellbeing and relationship building. Using overly professional or negative language can alienate the young people, therefore leading them to be less receptive to those supporting them and attempting to build relationships.
What is language?
Language is a powerful tool for communication. Expressive language is the use of language to communicate with others, by speech, sign, written words, symbols, gestures, body language or any other way of communicating our thoughts, needs and ideas. Receptive language is how we understand spoken words, the language around us and the ability to hear and understand spoken language. Language is needed for play, communication with others, staying safe, and in everyday activities. Both expressive and receptive language fit together.
We communicate to change behaviour, to give and receive information, to persuade, to confirm understanding and for action. It is widely thought that only 7% of the words we use are important when communicating, with 38% of the way we communicate being the way we say the words and 55% of communication is body language.
Body language is a vital form of communication, it provides non-verbal messages using actions such as; body movements, facial expressions, the tone and volume of our voice, and hand gestures. Whilst our body language often happens subconsciously, it is important to be aware of how we are presenting ourselves around the young people we work with. The way we show we are listening, our facial expressions, the way we move and react to others and the environment can be used to inform the young person whether we care or not, if we are being honest and if we are listening. When our spoken words and non-verbal signals match, it creates a feeling of trust and can support relationship building whereas if our words do not match our actions, it can create a feeling of mistrust and uncertainty.
Why is it important to “bMindful” about the language we use?
It is helpful to be aware of your own language and body language but also to be aware of the language and body language of the young people we work with. Young people who are in the care system and those who have experienced trauma may be hypervigilant to the world around them, particularly paying close attention to others, due to their past experiences. It is important to consider the influence of the immediate environment, and sensory aspects and the impact these might have on the outcome of the communication. For example, if there are lots of people around, this may make it difficult to engage in meaningful communication, or if the noise levels are too loud or too quiet, or the lights are very bright, this may also impact the quality of the interaction. Additionally, be mindful of any triggering words, movements or similar that could make the interaction difficult for the young person. It is important to get to know the young person, so we know what they need from us.
Young people in the care system can access information about their time in care for many years into the future, consider this when you are writing about them, think about if you would want to read the words you are writing about yourself as an adult. It might be helpful to remember the PACE model (you can read more about the PACE model here; https://www.bmindfulpsychology.co.uk/post/understanding-the-pace-model ) in your practice, write with playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. Consider including their strengths, use language that humanises, you can describe the behaviour but we need to be careful not to blame or assume a motive.
When we talk about the young people we work with, we live in a house, we say they live in a placement, we are having a bad day and have lost our temper, we say they are displaying challenging behaviours, we go out to the shops or to play football, we say they are out in the community or on an activity, we don’t tell someone we have met a few times how we feel or about our past experiences, but we say they are not engaging with us. Reframing our language can ensure a more human approach to the care we give to the young people we work with.
One of my favourite quotes that I like to hold in mind is by Karen Treisman; “Every interaction can be an intervention”.
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