I was recently reading a blog post by Michelle Garcia Winner, author of Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, Think Social!, Inside Out: What Makes a Person with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick?, and Social Behavior Mapping, and developer of a the highly effective social skills curriculum Social Thinking.  In this post, she discussed how altering your vocabulary can change the way you present information to your children/students and can improve their ability to act in ways that meet the expectations of parents, teachers, and general society.

When the terms, "appropriate" and "inappropriate" are used with children, it is frequently framed as a reprimand or criticism rather than as a way of telling children how they should be behaving.   Simply substituting the terms can automatically change the tone that a statement takes and opens the door for a discussion on behavioral expectations so the child can know clearly how they should be behaving.

In her blog post, Michelle delves into the cause and effect of expected and unexpected behaviors and shows how "expected" and "unexpected" can be used to present this to children.  The entire blog can be read here but the part that made the biggest impact on me is as follows:

"It is always best, when working with any student, to spend more time telling them about what they are doing right than what they are doing wrong. Any type of attention given to another person helps to validate them, therefore a teacher scolding a student at least recognizes that student as a member of the class and therefore can be interpreted by the student to be a positive thing given that he or she is rarely spoken to in a positive light. This means that negative attention can be sought by those needing attention! Unfortunately for those seeking negative attention, it means they have to continue to do unexpected or inappropriate behaviors to get that attention. If a parent or professional is careful to spend a significant amount of time noticing the expected behaviors of our students with social learning challenges and commenting on them as described above, it is then appropriate at times to also notice the unexpected by saying, “In this situation that behavior [label the behavior] is unexpected, when you do that it makes me feel ____, and when I feel this way I treat you in this way: _________ [describe what the parent or professional is doing].”

Framing our redirection of children's behaviors in the best possible way and accentuating their positive behaviors can go a long way to improving their overall social achievement.

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