The Real Effects of Negative Thinking and Language on Kids

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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, partly 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. Brielle is almost 14 now 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 six-year-old, stubborn-as-a-horse, strong-willed, no-holds-barred son, Trenton. 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.

Trenton requires completely different parenting than Brielle. 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

One of the most important things I’ve changed, which I now 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 3 to 5-year-olds!). Using this language every day in my classroom made it easier to transition it to our home once Trenton started developing language skills.

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 whats, whys, and hows.

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 to not feel like they’re utter failures.

Putting thought into your words takes time and practice, but if you want results from your kids, it’s the way to go.

Turning negative language into positive language

Positive Power Words

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.

  • Please
  • Thank you
  • You can…
  • I appreciate that you…
  • Let’s…
  • How about we…
  • Instead…
  • 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 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?

Start Using More Positive Words Each Day!

No two kids are the same. I promise you that, 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. 

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