Improving my Teaching Practice

Power in our words: what words we use to describe children

Word Choice

I believe that the words we use to describe children, their behaviors, personalities and their emotions dictate how we view the child, respond and interact with them. We have to be careful to avoid using “negative” words when talking about a child. I strongly believe that when we speak these words we give them life and who wants “negative” words a live in their classroom?

My BIGGEST pet peeve is when adults use the word aggressive to describe toddlers or young children. Someone might say, “Becky is a really aggressive toy taker” or “Ross is so aggressive. He is always pushing, hitting and sometimes he lies on the other children.” When I hear stories like this I get so angry and want to shout, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY AGGRESSIVE??!!” I think this word makes me angry because it has so many different meanings. says that aggressive means:

  1. “Characterized by or tending toward unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions, or the like; militantly forward or menacing: (aggressive acts against a neighboring country)
  2. Making an all-out effort to win or succeed; competitive: (an aggressive basketball player.)
  3. Vigorously energetic, especially in the use of initiative and forcefulness: (an aggressive salesperson.)
  4. Boldly assertive and forward; pushy: (an aggressive driver.)”

So what if we said “Becky is a forceful toy taker” or “Becky is vigorously energetic when it comes to finding materials she would like to use in her play. Often she makes an all-out effort to get the toy she really wants. She can be very assertive!” Doesn’t that feel better? When we use a word like aggressive, that has more than one meaning, we have to ask ourselves: what exactly am I trying to say? And say that instead.

I once read that aggressive meant with intent to hurt. I do not believe that toddlers join in big body play with an intent to hurt. They might push or sit on another child to see what happens. What if we say “Ross really enjoys powerful play. He pushes, hits and sometimes lies on other children. It feels like he is trying to figure out how strong he is.” Heather Shumaker states, “being ‘big’ is important to kids, and being powerful comes with it” (207). When it comes to big body play, since reading It’s OK not to share, I try to stick with using the words powerful play rather than aggressive. It has truly changed my response to this type of play, especially when one child is not wanting to be a part of it.

So if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all because what you speak comes to life and shapes how you view, care and interact with children. Think twice before speaking about a child and make sure you are saying exactly what you mean to say.

Resources: Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <;.

Shumaker, Heather. It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. New York: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.



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