Using Positive Language with Kids
One of the best things I’ve ever done in my life as a mom has been learning to use more positive language with my kids, and I’ll tell you why.
When I had my daughter, I thought, “Wow. This parenting thing is easy!” Aside from not sleeping through the night until she was a toddler, my little girl was a breeze. In fact, I nicknamed her Breezy, mostly because of her carefree, whimsical personality.
She was a go-with-the-flow kind of kid. It was always easy to explain things to her and teach her right from wrong. She’s now a teenager and, aside from occasional typical teenage ‘tude, she’s still an absolute pleasure. It’s just the way she is. I know I’m incredibly lucky.
And then there’s my son. My almost nine-year-old, stubborn-as-a-horse, strong-willed, no-holds-barred son. He’s incredible and amazing, but he’s not easy. He never has been. Even as a baby, he’d fight me on everything, from changing his onesie to feeding him, even when I knew he was hungry. He just always has to have it his way. I’ve learned that what works with my daughter doesn’t work with him.
My son was born deaf and didn’t get cochlear implants until he was almost two. He’s behind his peers with speech and language, understandably so. I contribute some of the challenges of reasoning with him to his language delay. But, I’d say the majority of it is just his personality, evident in his behaviors as an infant.
My son requires a completely different parenting strategy than my daughter. That was tough to get used to for a while. There’s a lot I needed to do differently with him, like give him a chance to cool down and come to me when he was ready. With my daughter, all I needed to do was give her the “Mom glare” and she’d stop mid-tantrum. My son needs space, a clear head, and time to think for himself before he’s ready to talk things out.No two kids are exactly alike. But it's undeniable that all kids can benefit from the power of positive language. #positiveparents #positivekids Click To Tweet
The Power of Positive Language: Using Positive Language with Children
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One of the most important things I’ve changed, which I apply to both my kiddos, is my language. I went to college to pursue an education degree and learned a lot about positive language and its effectiveness with children of all ages. I didn’t need to redirect my daughter much (lucky, I know), and when I did, a simple “Stop” or “No, thank you” usually did the trick.
Then I started teaching preschool. I learned just how necessary it was to tweak my words into something more positive to get the results I wanted. “Stop,” “No,” and “Don’t do that” just don’t cut it, especially for stubborn kids like my son (and, woah – you haven’t seen stubborn until you’ve taught a classroom full of 3 to 5-year-olds!). Using this positive language in the classroom every day made it easier to transition it to our home once my son started developing language skills.
Negative Language and Its Effect on Children
The word of the day here is communication. Negative language is easy to use because it’s quick. It’s what our brains automatically think of when we need to get our points across quickly. Think about what you tend to say when you catch your child hitting a sibling or jumping off the couch? Your first instinct is to yell, “STOP!” or something similar.Negative language is easy to use because it's quick. Positive words take some thought, but they're necessary to get results out of our kiddos. #positiveparents #positivekids Click To Tweet
Now, think about what those words convey to a young child who’s still learning right from wrong. Yes, you probably got your child’s attention with a quick, no-nonsense word or phrase, like “Get off the couch!”. But, does your child know why she shouldn’t jump off the couch, or that wrestling could potentially harm someone?
Negative language usually doesn’t communicate to a child what he or she should do instead. It leaves a child wondering what to do instead of solving the problem.
Possibly even more important is the negative impact this language can have on a child’s confidence. It’s discouraging. Think about how you’d feel if positive words rarely came from your boss’s mouth. Instead, you hear language like, “You can’t miss this deadline” or “Once again, we didn’t hit our financial goals this month.” Everyone needs positivity and encouragement.
We try to use positive language in business and with other adults daily. Imagine what an impact using positive phrasing in the classroom and at home can do for kids? Putting thought into your words takes time and practice, but if you want results from your kids, it’s the way to go.
Positive Power Words
I want to touch on negative words vs. positive words in this post because I know how tough it is to be mindful of your language. It’s easier to blurt out “STOP!” than it is to think of a positive action to relay to a child instead. However, being specific and positive is the perfect way to makeover negative behaviors and help your child understand the important what’s, why’s, and how’s.
This list of positive words and phrases is what I refer to as “Positive Power Words” because they truly are powerful for kids. Unlike “Don’t” or “Stop”, they have an immediate impact on kids, but in a good way.
- Thank you
- You can…
- I appreciate that you…
- How about we…
- I like/love that you…
- I can see that…
- I understand…
You’ll notice that each of these words and phrases are positive and give you an opportunity to insert a positive alternative to a negative behavior. Here are a few positive language vs negative language examples:
- Negative language: No candy right now. –> Positive language: Let’s wait to eat a piece of candy until after we get home so that you can brush your teeth.
- Negative language: Don’t drip paint on the table. –> Positive language: You can get a few pieces of old newspaper to lay on the table under your project.
- Negative language: Stop bossing your sister. –> Positive language: I appreciate that you’re looking out for your sister, but please come to me if you think she’s going to hurt herself.
- Negative language: Don’t forget to wash your hands. –> Positive language: Please wash your hands after using the restroom.
- Negative language: Stop interrupting! –> Positive language: I can see that you need to tell me something, so let me finish my phone call and then I’ll be all ears.
- Negative language: Quit yelling. –> Positive language: I understand you’re upset. Please take a few minutes to calm down, and I’ll be happy to talk about it more with you once you get your thoughts together.
See how different each type of language is? Which one would you be likelier to respond to?
How to Use More Positive Language at Home
The first step in making positive affirmations for kids become second nature is to practice using more upbeat language more often. The following tips can help you start turning negative language into positive words of encouragement for kids by working it into your daily routine.
Incorporate positive language activities and games into your routine
Positive language for kids starts with excellent communication skills – for both of you. And a good way to build communication skills is to have fun with it. Here are a few ways to do that:
- The Our Moments game, which has thought-provoking prompts for parents and kids to communicate with each other and bond.
- Play Say Please Little Pig, a game about manners that can help little ones learn to use positive words to ask questions and state their needs.
- Practice mindfulness together. Play a game like The Mindfulness Game, do yoga together, or create a “spa” area of your home to relax and unwind.
- Play the Positive Plates game from Mis Clases Locas as a family! Write positive words for each other and watch everyone’s confidence soar.
Use more “First/then” statements
First/then statements are ones that tell your child what will happen (something positive) if something else happens first. For example, your child might ask if they can have a snack. Instead of saying, “No” or “Maybe later,” try saying this instead: “First, finish your lunch. Then, I’ll let you choose a snack from the pantry.”
Give your child choices and independence
Little ones crave choices. Why? They’re learning to become independent and have their own responsibilities. Giving them choices instead of an automatic “No” instills confidence. Let your child choose between two outfits to wear for the day or help you pick out the items for his lunchbox.
Allow your child to think and respond
It’s probably the easiest to get heated when your child isn’t listening to your requests. But it’s important to remember that they just might need a little time to think about what you said and respond to it. Instead of blurting out a command that could come across as negative, allow your youngster to think about what you said before you say more.
Allow yourself time to think and respond
As a bonus, giving your child time to think also gives you time to think. Remaining calm is the key to being more positive around your kids. You can only respond calmly when you feel calm, so give yourself a breather, too. If your child does or says something negative, give yourself a few seconds to think about how you’re going to respond before you do.
Willingly apologize when things go wrong
No one is perfect (duh!), and mishaps are going to occur. And that’s completely okay. It’s what you do after you said something wrong that makes the difference. If you do get worked up and react negatively, apologize to your child. You’ll teach compassion, empathy, and that even adults make mistakes sometimes.
Start Using More Positive Words Each Day!
No two kids are the same. I promise you: Most of the time, what works for one child won’t work for another. But you know what does work on almost any child? Positive words! (The work on us stubborn adults, too!)
No one wants to hear “No” all the time. Positive language helps give kids the “Yes” they desperately are looking for, but in a way that makes sense. Tell a kid no for everything and all you’ll have is a constant power struggle that you’ll always feel like you’re losing.
My hard-headed son has, over time, learned to respond to positive language. It has taken a lot of time, but (as with any parenting method) consistency is key. You’ll have to train your brain to use this language and make a conscious effort to stick with it.
I promise it’s worth the effort!
Do you struggle with using positive words in place of negative language with your kiddos? I want to help! Drop a comment below with some of your most common phrases and we’ll work them into something more positive.
Amy is a mom of two, freelance writer, and blog manager who works with family-focused businesses to improve their content strategies. You can find her published work on Reader’s Digest Online, MSN, Niche, Frugal For Less, and other lifestyle publications.