Why Language Matters

In the world of residential children’s homes, where the well-being and development of young minds are paramount, we cannot overstate the impact of how we use language. Beyond just communication, the words we choose to use within children’s records can impact children’s self-esteem, emotional growth, and overall sense of worth. By adopting a language that centres on the child, using ‘you’ instead of third-person pronouns, we can empower children and make them feel acknowledged as unique individuals rather than subjects of documentation.

The Power of ‘You’: Establishing Genuine Connection

When we start using ‘you’ in children’s records, it transforms how we approach children’s stories. Instead of focusing solely on their actions, we delve into their experiences and perspectives. This simple linguistic shift signifies that we see them as active participants in their lives, worthy of recognition and validation. For instance, Instead of stating, “Jack refused to go to school today,” we can reframe it to capture Jack’s agency and emotions by saying, “Jack, you chose to wake up early today and openly expressed that you didn’t want to go to school.”

Fostering Trust and Openness

Language holds the power to shape relationships. By addressing children directly in their records, we build trust and openness. When a child reads about their experiences expressed in ‘you’ language, they are more likely to perceive the adults around them as attentive and caring. This can pave the way for healthier interactions and stronger bonds between staff and children.


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Validation of Emotions and Experiences

Children’s homes are often safe havens for children facing challenges and adversities. ‘You’ language validates their feelings and experiences, letting them know their emotions are recognised and accepted. For instance, rather than simply mentioning that “Samantha came home upset after her visit,” we can acknowledge and reflect on her emotional state by saying, “You appeared to be really upset when you returned home after your visit today.” This phrasing emphasises Samantha’s feelings and ensures she knows her emotions are recognised and understood. This subtle shift acknowledges Samantha’s emotional state and lets her know her feelings are acknowledged.

Records that Stand the Test of Time

Children’s records are more than just documents; they are windows into their past. These records follow them into their futures, influencing their perceptions of themselves and their past experiences. By using ‘you’ language, we create narratives that resonate with children throughout their lives, helping them remember what happened, how they felt, and what they overcame.

Incorporating ‘You’ Language: Practical Examples

Instead of: “Tom had a better day at school.”
Use: “You had an exceptionally good day at school today, Tom.”

Instead of: “Emily didn’t contribute to her review meeting.”
Use: “Emily, you didn’t share much during your review meeting today.”

Instead of: “Jacob refused his dinner.”
Use: “Jacob, you didn’t have the appetite for dinner tonight.”

Shifting from Judgement to Empathy

Non-‘You’ Language: Judgmental and Derogatory

“Incident report: John went missing yesterday. It appears that John decided to abscond again without considering the consequences of his actions. He displayed a total lack of responsibility by leaving the home unannounced, which is a clear violation of his agreement. Staff were forced to engage in a time-consuming search to locate him, taking resources away from other important tasks. This behaviour is concerning and demonstrates a complete disregard for the efforts we make to ensure his safety and well-being.”

‘You’ Language: Empathetic and Respectful

“Incident report: Yesterday, John, you left the home without notifying us. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone faces moments of uncertainty, and your decision to leave might have been difficult for you. We understand that situations can be overwhelming, and we want to ensure your safety and well-being. In response to your actions, staff initiated a thorough search to locate you. You eventually returned to the house at 11 pm and said you were safe and well. We talked together about how we could support you to talk to us before you decide to leave next time. Your well-being matters to us, and we are here to support you through challenges, helping you find healthier ways to manage your feelings and emotions.”

Using ‘you’ language shifts the tone from judgmental and derogatory to empathetic and respectful. It acknowledges the individual’s agency, emotions, and experiences, fostering an environment where they feel understood and supported.

Conclusion: Nurturing Empowerment Through Language

The words we choose matter, especially when documenting the lives of children in residential homes. By adopting ‘you’ language, we create a narrative that reflects their agency, emotions, and experiences. This simple yet impactful linguistic shift empowers children, validates their feelings, and fosters connections built on trust and openness. Let us be mindful of the language we use, for it can shape the trajectories of these young lives, leaving them with a sense of pride, self-worth, and empowerment that lasts a lifetime.