Masked Language -State what you want versus what you don’t want


Stating things explicitly is easier for everyone to understand

Language stated clearly, explicitly positively is best processed by the human brain. This is important when we are working with young children, language disorders and literal thinkers. Stating, “don’t touch your face,” often results in someone touching their face. Liken it to telling yourself, not to eat the chocolate chip cookie. If we on the other hand say, “I am only eating healthy items today”, we are far more likely to stick to it. Many upon hearing a negation word such as “don’t,” “no” and “not”, followed by a verb interpret the meaning without the negation.

Interpreting a negative paired with a verb looks like this: “don’t + touch +your + face” = negation+verb+pronoun+noun. We first need to understand this language in the explicit form of, “touch your face”, then reverse the meaning and negate the action when we add, “not” or “don’t”. Negating the action proves to be challenging for many and for all it can be more to interpret.

That brings us to, “Avoid touching your face,” and that it only makes sense to some. Stating things saying what you want to happen can clarify meaning resulting in less misinterpretation. The “not”, has a place and purpose, however we often have alternatives. This is particularly important when instructing others. Admittedly, it can be frustrating to say, “stop touching X,” only to have it happen over and over again. Part of this is inherent in the processing of language. We act on it versus inhibit it or we hear the action and act versus negate the action. You can see where this would be a challenge for those with attention difficulties. Make is short and concise. Language is easier to interpret in a direct form.

Some children will wear masks and others cannot. In these instances, we will need to problem solve and the adults will need to ensure they are wearing their masks and supporting the child as they learn the new use of, “social distancing”. Some children are unable to maintain a distance because it is new, and we habitually were inside the new 6 foot bubble. I found it most helpful at the grocery store that it stated, “stay two carts apart”. That provides a visual reference and is explicit language use.

In terms of, “NOT touching your face”. Try saying, “keep your hands-on lap or keep hands down”. Evaluate what works with a specific child. Identify keywords that represent boundaries. Provide reinforcement for keeping hands down and “catch” your children when they have their hands away from their face. We key into what we do not want to happen and respond to what others are not doing which can result in a negative experience for both sides. Focusing on the more explicit language and actions of what we do want to see happening often has a better and more lasting result. Imagine an active child who needs numerous redirections throughout the day.

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