Watch Your Words!

Earlier this week I talked about developing positive self-talk – and how it makes me think of Stuart Smalley. One of the big reasons that many parents, myself included, watch the language we use is because we don’t want our kids to pick up on our hang-ups. We want the little impressionable ears that are always listening to think good things about themselves, so we work hard to say good things about ourselves.

One of the other things I’m working on, as a parent, is changing the way that I talk to my kids. I’m doing this for a few reasons, but one of the big ones is that I’ve discovered there’s a difference between what I say, and what my kids hear.

For instance, if I say:

Don’t draw on the walls.

My kids hear:

… draw on the walls.

If I say:

No climbing on the countertop.

My kids hear:

… climbing on the countertop. Then they think to themselves, Climbing on the countertop is fun and cool.

There’s another component to this, and it’s that if I tell my kids not to draw on the walls, and then they draw on the table, they’re actually heeding my instructions. I could spend all day telling them what not to draw on. The couch. The fridge. The floor. Library books. The cat. It’s more explicit to say, We draw on paper. Only on paper.

negative talk positive talk parenting stopNegative language is less clear, especially to little kids who are just mastering language. I think this is why when I find myself telling them not to do something, they take that as a signal to go ahead and do it even more. Plus, it sets a less-than-upbeat tone to spend all your time telling kids what not to do. When I find myself saying No constantly, I start to feel like I’m constantly harping on my kids, and they’re not listening. Switching that to positive language isn’t a miracle cure that automatically results in happy, well-behaved children and a pleasant home life, but it does make things better. Better is something.

I absolutely believe that words like No and Stop have their place in parenting. We need to set boundaries with our kids – that’s what being a parent is about. The upside to using those words less, however, is that they carry more meaning when you do pull them out. When your four-year-old is running away in a crowded parking lot, you want them to stop when you tell them to stop. They’re more likely to do that if you’re not constantly telling them to stop all day, every day.

Switching the language I use with my kids is one more way I’m trying to create a more pleasant home life. I’m not always sure how much of a difference it makes to my children, but I feel better about my parenting when I’m using more positive language. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Where do you stand on using words like No, Stop and Don’t? Do you find that the way you word your requests makes a difference to how your kids respond, and how you feel about it? And do your kids display the same selective hearing that mine do? I’d love to hear all about it!

This post was inspired by the 10 Week Peaceful Parenting Challenge Blog Carnival hosted by Prenatal to Parenting. This week our participants have written about using positive language with others. We hope you enjoy this week’s posts and consider joining us next week when we share about a week of unplugging. Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Tips for making the Positive Comments outweigh the negative in your child’s day – Sarah from Prenatal to Parenting shares a startling stat and asks for your help in changing the numbers.

How to talk to your kids – Amy from The Connection We Share discovers the power of using positive language with your kids.

Watch Your Words – Amber from feels better about her parenting when she’s using more positive language.

The Power of Words – Peaceful Parenting Challenge Week 7 – Katrina from Kalem Photography is trying to figure out positive phrasing for some things she’d like her 2 year old to stop doing.

Week 7 – Watch Your Language!– Amanda from Sticky Hands suggests we start saying out loud things you love and things you want to happen.

Language and Distractions- Peaceful Parenting Challenge: Week 7 -Kathryn from Curiosity and the Kat is a bit distracted.

Watch Your Language! -Lolly from My Journey Home is attempting to communicate positively with her teen.

Positive Communication – Ricky from Daddy Blogger realized how often the words “Don’t” and “Can’t” and “No” tend to pop up in our conversations with our kids.

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  1. I totally agree with you that No and Stop have their place in parenting. A year ago, I always hear people say ‘don’t say no to your kids otherwise they’ll stop listening to you’ and I actually took that advice! I would rephrase words so I don’t have to say no. Then I realize my child NEEDS boundaries with very clear and direct answers. So now I say no and give my reason why and my daughter is okay with that.
    Amy @ The Connection We Share’s last post … how to talk to your kids so they’ll listenMy Profile

    • Yes, boundaries are very important. I think they’re even more effective when they’re well thought-out and clear, and not overly arbitrary. That’s something I’m still working on, and probably always will be!

  2. I attended a training seminar some time ago & the leader shared an interesting theory. She said that our brains think in pictures; that is, when we hear the words out brain creates a way to interpret them & it cannot create a picture of us not doing something. So, she said, when we tell children not to do something, such as don’t leave your coat on the floor, the picture created can only be coats left on the floor. She suggested always creating a positive picture, such as hang up your coat in the hall closet. She admitted it’s not fool proof but said it helps. Don’t know if it works but it was an interesting hypothesis.

  3. We’ve been really working on that here too. Framing it as a positive almost always gets better, faster results. Also, being precise with language. My husband tends to tell our son to “Calm down” and I keep trying to point out that he really has no idea what that means! Telling him to take a deep breath or directing him to a quiet activity works much better. (To be fair, my husband is much better at phrasing things as a positive. “Walk please!” instead of “Stop running”, etc. Because yeah, if you say “Don’t run”, your kid just hears “Run!”)
    Janine’s last post … World Breastfeeding Week – Nursing update & link roundupMy Profile

    • It’s true that there are lots of things we say that our kids don’t fully understand. Being more precise – and making sure you’re using age-appropriate words – is definitely important, as well.

  4. I’m glad w/o even noticing I’ve been reinforcing some positive when trying to give direction or change to a task. It might not always be the case, but glad I had done it sometimes. I’ll start to increase this positive behavior more since looks like it works.

    This weeks will be very self conscious.
    Mama and the City’s last post … Quick Way to Gain 10 Lbs in 5 MinutesMy Profile

  5. Thank you Amber. I read this aloud to Steve today. It was nice to have another parent echo my thoughts and dialoge.
    Heather’s last post … Girl TimeMy Profile

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