Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Power of Positive Language

Is it true?...Is it necessary?...Is it kind?...
By Tom and Karen Brenner


Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman to become a physician in Italy and the founder of the Montessori educational method, was also a pioneer in the use of positive language. Her message to parents and teachers at first seems so simple,


“Instead of saying to a child, ‘Don’t be stupid, say, ‘Please be wise.’

Instead of saying, ‘Stop running!’ say, ‘Please walk.’”

When we use positive language, this one seemingly simple change from negative to positive, can change everything in our lives. The use of positive language changes a parent or teacher from being a nag, or a scold into a mentor, a coach. The expected results are the same; we expect children to try and be wise, to walk in the house, to be good people. With positive language, we demonstrate that we believe that children can achieve these results.

As with many universal truths, what seems so simple and so obvious is also difficult and profound. It is not easy to turn our language patterns around. It takes a lot of thought and even more effort to break the habits of a life time, but if we can just try being conscious of using positive language, we will begin to see very real differences in our lives.

This is especially true when caring for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. We use the Montessori Method as the foundation for the work we do with people who have Alzheimer’s.

Using positive language can make a huge difference in the lives of caregivers and the people they care for. When we work with someone who is living with dementia, we try to find the remaining strengths and spared abilities of that person. Building on these strengths and spared abilities, we can find ways to connect to that person, to reach people who sometimes seem unreachable.

Using positive language is a huge part of this program. We can turn “Oh, mom, you know you can’t drive anymore!” into, “Let’s go for a walk, mom.” We can tell the people we are caring for that we enjoyed being with them today or that we like the sound of their laughter. Positive language doesn’t mean patronizing language; compliments or encouraging words should be real and heartfelt.

Even on the worst days, in the most difficult of circumstances, if we look deeply enough, if we try hard enough, there is always something positive that we can say to the person we care for.

Dr. Montessori never told people what to expect when they tried her method, she wisely knew that people have to experience the results for themselves. We encourage everyone reading this article to try the use of positive language in all of your relationships; and most especially when caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s.

Before we pass judgment on others, before we lecture or scold, Dr. Montessori asked us to stop and answer these three questions about our own words:
“Is it true? “

“Is it necessary?”

“Is it kind?”

Tom and Karen Brenner are researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. Tom is a gerontologist and has specialized in creating and researching dementia specific training programs. Karen Brenner is a Montessori educator and has specialized in working with children who are deaf or communication disordered. They have been published in magazines and journals both in the US and internationally. Learn more about Tom and Karen at Brenner Pathways.




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Original content Tom and Karen Brenner, the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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