How to Use Words that Work, The Power of Positive Language

Montessori at Home

Parenting can be exhausting, especially when you struggle to get your requests heard. Alicia Eaton, ‘Children’s Behavioural and Emotional Wellbeing Specialist’ offers some tips on how to get your child to listen. She says:

“Life can become much easier, simply by changing the words that we use” – Alicia Eaton

When we think, our mind creates mental images, and our bodies take these images as command on what to do next. This process is what gets us moving. For example, when you get into the car to drive, your arms and legs don’t think for themselves, our thoughts, through the images they create give them instruction. Given this, it’s paramount to ask children what you want them, as opposed to what you don’t want them to do. Surely, many parents have witnessed children asked not to touch something and the next thing they do is touch it. Your child does not do this in spite of you or to challenge you, rather, negative words don’t generate images, so the mind creates pictures from the remaining words. For instance, ‘don’t touch the knife’, the picture that is subsequently created is ‘knife’, so the child touches the knife. If we can get curious about the child’s development and offer them direct requests, we can better guide children towards the alternative action. Here are a few ways we can do this: 

1. Say what you want them to do

Instead of this:

  • ‘Why don’t you pack away your toys?’
  • ‘Don’t go near the oven’
  • ‘Don’t touch the baby’
  • ‘No fighting!’
  • ‘Don’t drop the glass’
  • ‘Stop splashing water’

Say this:

  • ‘It goes here (tap the shelf to put a toy away)
  • ‘The sign says it’s hot!’
  • ‘We are gentle with the baby’
  • ‘I can’t let you hurt them, use your words”
  • ‘Use two hands’
  • ‘Please keep the water in the bathtub’

2. Offer Choice

Sometimes Hurry up, why don’t you get dressed? We need to leave!” won’t make your child responsive. Instead, you can ask them ‘Which shirt will you wear this morning, the white or blue?’ 

Framing it this way empowers them and presupposes they have agreed. Furthermore, the child’s developmental urge is to be independent and exercise their will, so when you say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ surely, they will resist. 

3. Prompt Your Child

Starting your sentences with ‘think about it’, ‘how’, ‘listen’, ‘stop’ nudges your child to do just that:

  • ‘Think about it, how can we find a way to solve the problem?’
  • ‘Our friend is crying; how can we make it up to them?’
  • ‘Listen, what do you think needs to be done next?’
  • ‘Stop, let’s make a checklist of all the things we need to get done’

3. Give a Reason

Your child is more likely to do what you asked if they are given an understanding of what is asked of them. For instance:

  • ‘Let’s turn the volume down because we need to decide what we’re going to do next, and it will be easier to think of good ideas when its quieter’
  • ‘Can you help me carry the grocery bags from the car because there are too many bags for me to carry in one trip’
  • ‘I won’t let you hit the cat. Hitting hurts!’

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