How we speak to children makes a difference.
While there are a ton of ways to promote positive behavior in kids, this article focuses on the way we say certain things to children.
First I will give some negative examples that I have heard repeatedly over the years, followed by some positive examples that often lead to cooperative, pleasant, and positive behavior.
Think about which kind of talking you most often do with your kids and how it may affect their behavior.
Examples of Negative Statements
- “If you don’t clean your room, I am throwing all your toys in the garbage!”
- “I don’t care what you want, turn off your game and go to bed now!”
- “That’s it! You didn’t share! Get in the corner now and don’t come out until I say so!”
- “You’re interrupting me while I am talking to an adult! Are you kidding me? How dare you? Sit down now and don’t get up til I say so.”
- “Put your head down and don’t move!”
- “Stop being a baby! I don’t care if you don’t like the food. You’ll eat what I give you!”
- “Oh god, you’re such a crybaby.”
While some of you may think that people don’t really talk this way…it is extremely common and actually appears to be a more popular parenting style than using positive language.
I have also frequently observed this type of language in the classroom.
No person, child or adult wants to be spoken to like this.
Examples of Positive Statements
- “You worked so hard on cleaning your room today.”
- “I love how you are trying new foods. You ate really well at lunch.”
- “That was so nice of you to share your blocks with your sister”
- “Wow! That was a great choice when you helped clean up the game pieces!”
- “You worked so hard on your math homework! You should be so proud of yourself!”
- “I know you are upset because your sister will not share her snack with you. It is frustrating when you can’t get what you want. Can I get you a snack? Would you like grapes or yogurt?”
- “I know you don’t like doing your homework. Is there anything I can help you with? Let’s break it into small parts and you can take breaks to do something fun. Here…do ten math problems and then you can color or watch a video for five minutes before completing the next ten.”
- “I understand that you are mad because you don’t want to put your toys away and go to bed. Choose one toy to hold while we get in bed and read a story. You can pick the story too. Good sleep is important and tomorrow there will be time to play again.”
A positive demeanor and response matter.
Research and 20+ experience supporting children demonstrate that positive (as opposed to negative) parenting & teaching strategies make a lasting difference when it comes to children’s behavior.
Just like adults, kids want their opinions, feelings, ideas, and choices to be heard, understood, and at least sometimes honored.
Many times adults push kids’ feelings to the side “I don’t care how you feel. You will do it because I said so.”
Some children handle this type of treatment well and still grow up to be kind-hearted, responsible, adults.
Other children, especially those who are very strong-willed will push back and fight against this dictator-like approach to discipline.
Rebelling against authority is not that unusual.
Children are expected to respect “authority” but just like adults, if something does not feel right to them, they resist it.
It is the nature of free will which is “human nature.”
Compromise and empathy are key when setting boundaries.
Compromise, meeting a child halfway, and being understanding about just how little control they have and what frustration this causes, are key.
Through this type of thinking, you can provide a child with as much freedom and independence as possible while still guiding them to make good choices, have good values, and eventually be productive, contributing members of society.
When anyone feels like their feelings are ignored or dismissed, thoughts are not heard, and desires are not cared about, they feel frustrated, angry, and disappointed.
A lifetime of frustration, anger, and sadness can lead to a depressed, anxious, and/or angry adult.
When we are not at our best, we can have trouble making positive choices. Unhealthy decisions can negatively impact ourselves and those around us.
Final Thoughts on the Way We Interact with Children
People always say that “kids need to learn the way the real world works” or that “people aren’t going to be helpful or understanding and they need to learn how to deal with it.”
Is that the kind of world we want?
Do we want to settle for a crappy world and say that we need to be harsh with our kids in order to prepare them, or do we want to do something about it?
The number one thing that will make the world a better place is to make it all about the kids and constantly treat them with the respect that we constantly demand from them.
If they grow up with confidence and happiness they will most likely grow up to make healthy choices leading to an overall improvement in society.
There will always be children who have challenging behavior even with all the right strategies in place.
However, if you haven’t used positive behavior support as your first step, I wouldn’t even be entertaining the idea that “a child has behavior problems” or needs psychiatric treatment.
Educationandbehavior.com – Keeping Adults on the Same Page for Kids
Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”