We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” That’s true for many of the instructions we give kids throughout the day. Often, we don’t realize how we’re phrasing things. We give lots of commands focused on what we don’t want – “Stop yelling,” “Don’t run in the house,” “Quit wasting time, you have homework to do.” It’s no wonder that kids tune us out. Who wants to hear a stream of reminders of what we’re doing wrong? Thankfully this is just a language habit that we can change with some self-awareness. Using positive language also has the added advantage of positively affecting your mindset, not just your kid’s.
To get started, become aware of how you communicate with kids currently. Do you focus on what they’re doing wrong or what you want them to stop doing? If so, interrupt that pattern and instead tell them what you want them to do. It can be challenging at first, but every negative request can be stated as a positive one. The simple “Stop running,” converts to “Please walk,” to the more complex “Stop taking your anger out on me,” to “Please talk to me respectfully, even when you’re angry.” (Of course, you need to create a shared language around what “respectful” looks and sounds like in real life).
Keep the requests short and sweet. Often, we include a lecture when asking a child to stop doing something. Those don’t help manage the behavior and usually just frustrate the child. When offering positive commands, keep the phrasing short and sweet. No lectures, no judgments, nothing but the positive ask.
Add in please and thank you. The best way to instill manners in a child is by modeling them. “Please” can easily be added to a positive command and the helpful behavior can be appreciated with a simple “Thank you for walking in the house,” or “Thanks for speaking to me respectfully.”
Focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want is a simple but powerful tool for helping kids to make better behavior choices. It’s also a great mood enhancer for you, too.