Language Prompts to Build Confidence

If you’ve spent any amount of time with children you may be familiar with what I call the ‘watch me’ phenomenon. This is when a confident child who has perhaps recently mastered a new skill requests that you observe them completing that skill over and over and over. This is fairly typical 4 year old behavior. What is happening in this circumstance is they are building a sense of self and because their caregiver is their anchor for that sense of self they need the affirmation of said caregiver to confirm their belief that what they are doing is amazing and awesome.

Where this becomes a slippery slope is when the child loses their intrinsic motivation to complete said skill and instead only does so for the praise they hope to receive. The language we use in these instances becomes the inner voice of our children.

Here are some lovely phrases we can use to support a child’s construction of a positive self image:

My go to Scripts:

“Find more space.”
I don’t know what it is but many children seem to have no spatial awareness and no sense of personal space. They do things on top of each other and then wonder why they get stepped on. Our job is often to help them become more spatially aware and take responsibility for themselves.

“It looks like you have an idea. Tell me about your idea.”
Oftentimes when a child is doing something outside the box of expected behavior it is because they have a plan and they are acting it out. I’ve learned to ask and listen before shutting down their play.

For new students who are struggling to find comfort in play outdoors:
“What do you like to play at home?”
This gives me insight into the kinds of things they are comfortable with and allows me to bridge the gap.

“It is my job to keep you safe and your parents trust me because I am really good at my job.”
It is absolutely incredible the power this statement has. We underestimate how much of a child’s discomfort stems from feelings of insecurity.
Perhaps it is because I am autistic but I often speak directly to an issue no side stepping, no redirection. “You miss your mom.” “Are you feeling scared?” those kinds of things.

Problem Solving Scripts:

  • How could you change that?
  • What else could you do?
  • What would happen if you?
  • Is there another way to? 
  • How did you do that? 
  • I noticed….
  • Tell me about…..
  • How would you….
  • How did you….
  • How is that different? 
  • How can you use _______ differently?

Tree Climbing or Risky Play Exploration Scripts:

  • “Stay focused on what you’re doing.”
  • “What is your next move?”
  • “Do you feel safe there?”
  • “Take your time.”
  • “Does that branch feel strong and stable?”
  • “I’m here if you need me.”

Physical Play Scripts:

“Please find a safe spot for your stick while you’re running.”

“I’ve noticed that this is a really busy area. What are some of the things we need to watch out for with so many kids around?” (and give some examples). Or, “Let’s move this to a lower-traffic zone.”

“I’ve noticed that there are a lot of fallen trees and sticks to trip on here.
“Should we move this game to a more open area?”

“Sticks need space. Mike, please back up from Sarah. She’s holding a big stick!”
“Sticks need space. Sarah, look around you. Do you have enough space to swing that big stick?”
“What’s your plan with that big stick?”

“Rocks need space!”
“Find more space!”
“Before you throw that rock, what do you need to look for?”
“That rock looks really heavy! Can you manage it?”

“Please give each other lots of space so that no one feels like they need to push and no one gets knocked over by accident.”
“Do you feel stable/balanced?”
“Do you need more space?”

“If you need to run, meet me at the next trail marker!”
“Let’s check this cave/fort to make sure it is safe to hide in.”

Challenging Behaviour Scripts:

  • “Check in with each other. Make sure everyone is still having a good time.”
  • “Ask her if she’s ok.”
  • “Check in with them. Are they ok?”
  • “Ask him if he’s still having fun.”
  • “Did you like that? Make sure you tell her if you didn’t like that.”
  • Let’s take a minute together.
  • Let’s make a plan together.
  • I can see that you are having a hard time _____. I am going to help you so we all feel safe.
  • I can’t let you hurt ___. I am going to stop your body.

“Stop!” (make the sign language sign for stop which is karate chopping your palm face up.)
     or “Pause!” (I hold my hands up like little paws.)

  • Name (pause) I need throwing rocks (pause) to stop (pause) now.” 
  • Praise the good. EG: I can see you are really good at throwing.
  • Two positive choices.  EG. You may throw rocks over here or scoop them with this where you are.

Positive Feedback:

  • You did a dynamite job of solving that problem…”
  • “You have really learned how to…”
  • “You must feel proud of yourself for…”
  • “Excellent idea for…”
  • “You’ve done a wonderful job at…”
  • “See how _______has improved in…”
  • “You have worked so hard…”
  • “Look how well s/he did at…”
  • “That’s a resourceful way of…”
  • “WOW!! What a fabulous job you’ve done of…”
  • “That’s a cool way to …”
  • “I’m so appreciative that you…”
  • “You put a lot of work in to make that picture the way you wanted…”
  • “You’ve really grown up because you…”
  • “You are a real problem solver for…”
  • “Brilliant thinking for…”
  • “Give me an EXTRA HUGE high five for…”
  • “Tell me what you like best about your creation.”
  • “Class, I have an announcement! Let’s all give a hip, hip hooray to _____ for _____”
  • “I really appreciate the way all of you have your eye on the story and are listening so carefully, so you don’t miss any part of the story.”


CNAC – Risk Benefit Assessment 2019 –

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