The Power of Words

By now you will have read many news reports, articles and will have had many conversations around the fall of Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein, and no doubt you will have been confronted by the overwhelming numbers of women and men showing solidarity on social media through #metoo. If you live in a cave and have absolutely no clue what the fuss is about, Harvey Weinstein, a hugely prominent Hollywood Executive in charge of producing many major films and part owner of Miramax, has been accused of sexual harassment, rape, verbal abuse and bodily harm by a growing number of actresses and ex-employees. Perhaps more shockingly, what is coming to light is that many of the incidents were already known about by friends, agents and fellow actors.


You’re probably wondering what this current topic has to do with working with children and young people. One of the underpinning principles of the care and education sector is RESPECT. This word gets tossed around a lot and although we would all like to think that we walk through daily life sashaying like Arethra Franklin treating people with respect and respecting people as individuals, the spread of #metoo has shown that we have a long way to go.

RESPECT is ‘Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017) or I would add, for ourselves.

Respect is a powerful word with which we learn the social skills necessary to create and sustain relationships of all forms. These skills, you guessed it, begin developing from birth. So I’ve put together a handy practical guide with some links to resources as to how you might begin nurturing respect in any care or education setting in relation to some of the current issues surrounding the above mentioned media explosion.

My body is my body and your body is your body.

If a child is doing something to another child and it is clear that the action isn’t welcome, instead of time-out or other forms of punishment (many of which won’t get to the root of the problem anyway), try encouraging the child to say something like “Stop, no thank you” or “I don’t like that.  It makes me feel…”.  Encourage them to listen to each other’s wishes and to express their own (power words!). This can be done from any age. The more they hear it, the deeper the understanding.

If you need to touch a child for a reason, for example, changing some clothes or wiping a face, try asking first. And if they say no, then respect that wish.

Do not force children to participate in affection or physical contact if they do not wish to do so. Overriding their wishes teaches them that it is more important to please others than follow their own feelings. What is more important, Aunty getting her sloppy kiss or the child understanding that when they say no, it means no?

Resources: YouTube video guide for book: My Body What I Say Goes by Jayneen Sanders

Dismissing or ignoring dangerous or disrespectful behaviour.

The old adage, ‘ignore it and it will go away’ needs to be fed to the fire pits of Mordor. Ignoring something, or someone’s behaviour may make it invisible to you or others but it sends the message that it is an acceptable behaviour as long as it is not seen or heard. How dangerous is that? With children, ‘praise good behaviour’ and ‘ignore bad behaviour’ should be exchanged for ‘all behaviour is communication’. If a child is displaying negative behaviour then that needs addressed. It might take some calm talking and a lot of repetition but that’s OK, that’s how children learn!

Resource: Podcast from Pivotal Education: Restorative Practice

Listen to each other!

The UNCRC states that: ‘Article 12 (respect for the views of the child) Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.’ Listen to the children’s voices and offer options as often and as wide-ranging as you can. Follow their lead. You’ll be surprised at what they are capable of.

Resource: Video from charity Enquire, Listening To Children techniques from 4:07 : Listening To Children

Smash gender stereotypes. 

Toys are just toys. They are for everyone. If Billy wants to dress-up in a fairy dress, celebrate that as you would if he were in a Spiderman suit. End of.

Don’t call girls ‘bossy’ and boys ‘leaders’ for the same types of behaviour. Try ‘strong-willed’, ‘very organised’ or ‘all-round great human’!

Value all for what they do, not how they look.

Resource: Let Toys be Toys is a campaign challenging gender stereotypes and redrawing the balance: Let Toys be Toys Campaign

Practice being a role-model.

The above suggestions are not quick fixes. They are a way of being and role-modelling in everyday practice. The principle of RESPECT should underpin every decision we take and intervention we choose to make. This is an opportunity to re-think how we nurture a society that looks out for others, that doesn’t sweep behaviour like Harvey Weinstein’s under the carpet and that respects each individual for who they are. I follow and encourage the same rules in college too.

If you have been affected by any of the topics in this post, there are many organisations that you can call for discussions and help.

With childcare becoming an increasingly in-demand career in Edinburgh and the Lothians, our in-house childcare expert, Clarissa, is writing a series of blogs to show you how important a career in childcare is and why you should be getting yourself, or loved ones, interested.