Saying ‘no’ to our kids is not the end of the world, in fact, sometimes it is just what your child needs to hear. A firm ‘no’ can have a precise impact at times when you really need it to, but if you are trying to get your child to listen to an explanation, or to change their behaviour, then starting your response with a negative can mean you fail before you even begin.
Older kids often tune out when they hear a negative. Starting with a ‘don’t’ can mean they begin to argue before you have even finished the sentence as they assume whatever comes next is not something they will like. It puts them on the defensive right from the start and is a quick way to set up a power struggle that you’d probably rather avoid.
Simply changing the tone and wording from the negative to the positive can make a big difference in whether your kids listen and cooperate. Focussing on positive language with kids can turn a battle into a collaboration.
How do you change your tone from negative to positive?
Changing your language from negative to more positive, doesn’t mean you never say “no” or anything negative, but making an effort to speak more positively can have big rewards when it comes to guiding our kids.
Start by thinking about what you are saying. Can you get your message across without using any negative language?
I’ve found the best place to start is to stop telling my kids what they can’t do and start telling them what they can do.
“Please walk inside.”
“Take the ball outside.”
“Be gentle with your brother.”
Another easy change is to start by saying something that connects with my kids in a positive way. It might be noticing what they are doing from their perspective, or trying to put their feelings into words, or sharing your love for them, before you redirect. This small connection shows my kids that I notice them and care about them and their feelings, before I notice and redirect their behaviour.
“It looks like you two are having loads of fun… ”
“It looks like you are angry with your sister… ”
“I love that you are excited about going… ”
Sometimes, if I put those two things together I can avoid any negatives at all.
“It looks like you two are having loads of fun, take the ball outside where you have lots of space to throw it.”
Sometimes I am stressed, or rushed, or overwhelmed, and can’t think of a positive way to say all I need to say, but if I can just start with a positive I’ll get a much better response, and with a little practice positive language will slowly become more habit than effort.
It’s not just what you say, but also how you say it. The other side to this idea is your tone.
Tell me I’m not alone in this…
I say to my kids in my best whiny voice; “Stop whining and complaining all the time! It’s doing my head in!!”
Yep, I whine at my kids to stop whining, or I yell at my kids to stop yelling… because that is definitely going to make things better, or not.
I can not expect my children to stop whining, or yelling, or arguing, if I am doing those things too!
I need to be a role model when it comes to way we speak to each other. I need to ‘set the tone‘ and respond in a calm, polite, and positive manner. I need to show my kids that it is important to master your tone, and that it is worth the effort.
Sometimes I find this so very hard.
It’s always there in the back of my mind, but it often slips away right when I need to remember it. But when I make a real effort to focus on watching my tone and the way I am speaking to people, especially my children, they pick up on it and suddenly life in our house seems so much calmer and nicer.
I am not trying to erase all negative tone and language from my interactions with my kids, that would be weird and unnatural, but I am trying to make the majority of my interactions with them positive, especially when I am guiding their behaviour. And I am trying to be aware of my tone and language, how it affects my family, and how I can do better.
“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
That saying might be old fashioned, but it is also true when it comes to parenting our kids.
Everyone likes to be spoken to in a nice way. You’ll get more cooperation and collaboration if you change your tone and words from the negative to the positive.
This is what I’m working in right now, to be a better parent.
What are you working on to be a better parent?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Lauren Tamm says
Turning a negative into a positive or a no into a yes has really made a huge impact in our home. Tone makes a huge impact in our home as well. I am totally guilty of yelling out of frustration, telling my son ‘no’ too much, and using a whiny tone. A while back I heard a mom tell her son, “he was the worst kid ever.” I could tell she was so frustrated. Parenting is really tough. I decided I need to change my mindset. Before I do anything I think to myself…If my parenting was put on YouTube would I feel embarrassed? Suddenly, I woke up and started working to change my tone from positive to negative. I’m happier and so is my son. It’s a work in progress, but at least it’s progress.
I’m a teacher and I can tell you: THIS is how you do it!! Prohibition often encourages rebellious behaviors and it’s better to change the approach to a more relaxed and controlled method. These are great great great tips and I’m totally sharing them. Thanks a million for your time and effort.
Mrs W says
I love these tips! You’re right, it can be so hard in the moment to catch the time or energy it takes to put it in to practice, but the more we think about it and discuss it, hopefully the more it stays at the forefront of our minds.
I am also currently trying to watch my tone, and have been aware of just how often I say no, so this couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve also had trouble sleeping and am feeling so tired, finding it hard to muster the energy to actively spend time playing with my daughter. So I’ve been trying to come up with activities we can do together that will keep her busy for longer and won’t wipe me out!
Chris S. says
I love these tips! I do have a question though- in the example where you state something along the lines of “you’re having so much fun, take the ball outside so you’ll have more room”… What do you do when your children say, “no”? I can picture my 4yo flat out refusing! I always start out gentle and then end up frustrated :(
Ah I have a four year old too… and while the hope is that he is more likely to listen and follow my suggestion when he feels like I have acknowledged his feelings and needs and given him a viable alternative, he doesn’t always take my positive suggestions and go with them!
If he ignores me I make sure I go over to him and get down on his level and repeat my suggestion so I know he has heard, and he knows that what I am saying is something he should listen to.
If he says “I don’t want to” then I’ll try again with a another suggestion. Often the answer is offering to play with him as usually he is looking for connection, but that is not always possible so If he says no a second time then I simply give him a clear guideline… ‘balls are for outside’ and follow through with that limit/guideline.
If you can state your limits in a clear and calm manner and not buy into any power struggles then even if your four year is frustrated by not being able to throw the ball in the house, hopefully you are not losing your mind also… this post might also help :
Parenting secret #37 – It’s ok for your kids not to like the limit you set.
Thanks for sharing with us.