When I think about all of the phrases, anecdotes, and sayings about the power of the spoken word I am reminded of how I have changed my way of communicating with children.
- No (running, hitting, fighting, fill in the verb)!
Kids hear the word “no” far too frequently. You can always rephrase the sentence from a negative to a positive, which will correct the behavior without sounding critical. Train yourself to say what you want them to do instead of what you don’t. So, you can say “Walk, please” instead of “No running”.
- Good job!
I have spent a good deal of time on articles on the difference between praise and encouragement. Train yourself to respond with “You did it!” or “You got it!” or “You figured it out!”. Notice the common element is starting with the word “you” and then acknowledging what they worked at, rather than what you think about it.
- Don’t argue with me.
Children are programmed to question, analyze and wonder about situations. This can sometimes present itself in an argumentative manner, but this is actually a normal part of development. Instead of cutting off the conversation, you can say, “I know you want my answer to be different, but it will not change”. You can also train yourself to make sure the child fully understands your response, with “I just told you my answer. Do you have a question about it?” This allows the child to present their opinion or get clarification. Either way, the child is allowed to express their thoughts or concerns and feel validated without an argument.
- Wait until your Dad/Mom/other person finds out about this.
This does two things. First, it creates anxiety and fear in the child, especially of the person who you are going to tell about whatever happened. Second, it ignores your responsibility to deal with the issue at hand and passes it to someone else. By the time a child has gotten in trouble for something, they already feel guilty, sorry and embarrassed about it. Threatening to tell someone else rubs salt in the wound. Choose whether the other person really needs to know about the issue, and if yes, let the child decide who will tell them. “Do you choose to tell (Mom) what happened, or choose for me to tell her with you there to make sure that I explain it correctly?” This gives the child respect and responsibility for their actions.
- If you do that one more time…
I can’t tell you the number of times I hear that phrase when around other parents, even though it is highly ineffective. First, you are threatening a child, which makes them fearful of you. Second, the threat is usually not something that is feasible to do (we are going home, you are going straight to bed, you don’t get dinner, you are grounded for a week, etc.) What we say in frustration is not only impractical but easily forgettable. Then we contradict our credibility. You can train yourself to be clear and concise, using choices. “If you choose to (continue that behavior), you choose to (receive whatever consequence has already been established as a punishment)”. You might say, “Erin, if you choose to poke your sister again, you choose to not watch TV for the rest of the day”. This clearly communicates the expectation and the consequence, without a threat.