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The Way We Talk To Kids Is So Simple Yet Effective

The words that we choose to use when talking to our kids need some thought and consideration. These words are highly influential and shape our kids attitudes, thoughts and feelings about their surroundings. Why then as parents, teachers or carers should we not at least stop and reflect on how we deliver our messages?

Children learn how to think and act by the words that run through their heads. These words are internalised by what they see and hear from us! These words determine a child’s confidence level and how they internally talk to themselves.

It is clear and crucial, that as parents then, we ask this question….how do I talk to my kids?

The other day in the supermarket, I observed the way a parent was talking to their three year old. Their child was a very busy, inquisitive explorer whose energy was starting to wear the parent down.

The language used to deal with this child was “If you climb up on that palette, I’ll call the supervisor”, “Don’t you dare run in here or I might leave without you”, “Don’t yell, it is giving me a headache”.

While I could see that the mum had just about given up and was getting frustrated by her child’s ongoing energy and mischief, I wondered whether she could relay a similar message to her child, using different words to gain a positive response.

By using positive wording, we are helping our kids to act confidently so that they feel capable in a wide variety of situations. Teach your kids what you want them TO do in situations, instead of what NOT to do.

Here are some simple, yet effective examples.

Instead of saying:
“Don’t run in here.”
“Remember to walk in here.”

Instead of saying:
“Don’t swear at school today.”
“I want you to be kind to others and friendly at school today.”

Instead of saying:
“Don’t drop that glass. If you do, there will be trouble.”
“Hold on to that glass carefully. It is a very special one”

Instead of saying:
“Don’t run across the road.”
“Always hold my hand when crossing the road and stay be my side.”

It is obvious that the words they hear are rehearsed in their minds. If mum says, “Don’t drop that glass” that is what the child thinks about when carrying the glass, and chances are they will drop it! If they hear “hold on to it carefully”, they are focusing then on doing exactly that.

So going back to the example of the child in the supermarket. The mum may choose next time to use words such as “Move over here away from that palette please, it looks pretty unstable”, “Make sure you only walk in the supermarket, it keeps you and everyone else safe”, “Talk in a softer voice please, it will help mummy’s headache to feel much better”.

The benefits to this approach are huge. Not only are we putting positive thoughts into their minds, but also providing them with useful information to store away for future reference in other situations.

Sometimes children deliberately disobey us and try to push the boundaries to see what will happen. It is important to not lose your cool and reverse all of the good work you have done. Exercise that self control and show your kids how to behave by demonstrating it yourself.

If your child is persisting, try not to give them an interesting reaction where they can see their behaviour is getting the better of you. Remain calm and direct your request in an assertive and firm tone. Sometimes a serious look can also get the message across loud and clear. Never yell or lose control of yourself as the situation can get out of hand and you will feel regretful afterwards.

If you feel your blood starting to boil, take time out for a few minutes, take some deep breaths and think about how you want to respond. When both of you are calm, talk about what happened and how you both felt. Ensure you listen to each other. Make your explanations clear so your child knows what you expect from them and why their behaviour was unacceptable.

The bottom line is, using positive language does not mean being a big softy where your kids walk all over you. Be assertive, clear and do expect good manners always. Using positive language wherever possible is far more likely to receive positive responses from your kids. Give it a try starting from now.

Next time your child reaches to open that fridge door, before saying “Don’t open that door”, pull yourself up and think…what is it I want them TO DO? Then say that, for example “Leave the door closed please George, help mummy shut it. Good boy, thankyou!”

Joss Daly is a mum and primary school teacher. She likes to share helpful techniques for connecting and talking with kids. For other great tips, advice and information, visit her website