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.
Little kids often don’t take in or understand the negative words we use. They miss the ‘don’t or ‘stop’ at the beginning of the sentence, and can’t figure out why you are telling them to do the thing they are already doing when you appear angry about it. It’s confusing for them and frustrating for us!
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 positive to negative?
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.
So the saying goes and it is so 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?