5 Steps to Be a Parent Overflowing With Positive Language
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When a parent switches from negative language (ex. “No,” “Stop,” “Don’t) to positive language they will quite often find that there will be less whining, tantrums and power struggles with their child. This slight change can make a world of a difference.
Positive language tells a child exactly what they can do, rather than commanding what they shouldn’t do. For many young children it is not effective to tell them what not to do because they might have a hard time understanding what they CAN do. Saying something like, “Don’t climb the bookcase,” can leave a child conflicted as they don’t know what they should do, but telling them, “You need to keep your feet on the floor,” tells them precisely what they need to do.
Using positive language will increase the chances that your child will do what they want, and will have a wonderful effect on the tone of the day. If you constantly feel like you are saying, “Don’t do this,” “Stop doing that,” you as a parent might start to feel discouraged. Positive language is a big part of Gentle Parenting so we’re going to take a look at how to start using positive language with our kids.
Why is positive language so difficult?
Over the years I have realized that for a lot of parents and caregivers it is easier to jump to the negative commands than to positive, thoughtful language. It has nothing to do with how much a parent cares for their child, but negative language just seems to be automatic for a lot of people.
Why is that?
Negative language usually requires fewer words. It may seem quicker to just say, “No!” to get a child to stop doing something, but saying “No,” probably isn’t as effective as most parents would like. The positive alternatives are always more wordy.
When you use positive language with your child it may take more time, but that’s because you are respecting your child as a whole person, and giving them a dignified response to their actions.
Imagine the boss in a workplace just going around saying, NO when their employees made a mistake instead of giving them proper instructions. I would much rather work for someone who gives me meaningful correction and treats me with kindness than someone who just criticizes.
If you want to start using positive language with your child, you need to be reading to commit to spending a few extra seconds correcting and redirecting them. It will take longer to say the alternatives to “No,” but it will be more effective.
So as you can see, positive language might not come easily to everyone but it can have a wonderful impact in our homes. Here are steps to get started with positive language.
Step 1: Identify the negative language you are already using?
You need to start to be aware of any negative language you are using so you can start to correct it. Is there a certain behaviour you feel like your child does a lot that constantly makes you react in a negative way? Do they perhaps like to screech at the top of their lungs and you constantly say, “STOP!”
Think about what triggers or behaviours might be causing you to use negative language with your children. Be prepared that these specific scenarios might be a struggle for you, but if you are aware of them it will help you to overcome them.
Step 2: Learn some positive alternatives and start using them
Over time you are going to pick up on positive phrases to use for certain situations, and in a lot of cases what you say is just going to be custom to whatever your child is doing. I like reading different positive phrases because it helps to embed the positive language into my mind. There isn’t just one solid phrase to replace, “No.” When you use positive language with your child it is important to treat them with respect and you will be addressing the specific situation.
Here are some alternative phrases you can use.
Speaking positively will have a major effect on your child but it will also do a lot for you as well. You will start to feel differently and you will see your child in a new light when you use positive language.
Step 3: Continue to set appropriate boundaries
A big part of Gentle Parenting is to set appropriate boundaries for your children. When your children have a clear idea of what is ok and what isn’t ok it is much easier for them to do what is expected out of them and you will spend much less time correcting them.
An important part of setting appropriate boundaries is knowing what is age appropriate for your child. If you have a young toddler who is constantly pulling books off the shelf you might be better off to just move the books than to constantly be trying to correct them.
Set appropriate boundaries so your child doesn’t need as much correction. Help your child to understand what is and is not appropriate. You may need to spend some special time together talking about how to overcome a particular challenge. Listen to their ideas and work together for a solution. When they are included in the boundary setting it will be much easier for them to stick to them.
Appropriate boundaries will empower your children to do the right thing and will decrease their need for correction.
Step 4: Evolve your positive language out of commands
From the graphic above we replaced negative commands with positive commands. This is great and will can play a big role, but after you have gotten used to no longer using negative commands it would be best to start to evolve out of commands all together.
Children hear a lot of commands all day, but it’s not how adults would talk to each other. Adults would reason with one another or make a request rather than a command. An adult might say, “Can you please turn your music down, I find it hard to concentrate,” and the person playing the music would realize that their music is bothering them and turn it down.
With children we can also reason with them. This is a great tool because it will teach the child to be reasonable. Of course, when you make a request instead of a command you have to be prepared that the answer could be, “No,” and so you have to be willing to live with that.
Meaningful choices work great instead of commanding or requesting (when you can’t live with the answer “No,”). With meaningful choices you can say something like, “It’s time for bed, do you want to brush your teeth first or put on your pajamas?” Giving your child the choice will empower them as they get the make their own decision, but of course both options are ones you are happy with.
When your positive language evolves from commands to requests and meaningful choices, you will be developing more respect and kindness for your child. If you put yourself in their shoes you will see that that is a nice way to talk to each other.
Step 5: Relax
The last step to being a parent overflowing with positive language towards your children, is to just relax.
If you are always stressed about the mess, or wanting things done quickly, you will find yourself very stressed out as a parent, and stress will turn to anger.
One thing I have learnt while on the missions field in Africa is how to slow down. In the Western culture time can be more important than people. We really value time to the point that it hurts people. Our child do not know about our perceived value of time, and often it just takes a child longer to do something than it would for us.
Next time you feel impatient with your child when they don’t immediately do what you ask try taking a deep breath and staying quiet. Watch your child as they slowly (but eventually) do what you ask. Rather than being annoyed that it took them so long be proud of them for their ability to (eventually) follow instructions.
When you are able to relax you won’t worry so much about the yogurt handprint on your jeans or the fact that it took your child 3 times as long to dress himself than if you had done it for him. Be proud of them for their independence and remember that they are still growing up. If you can relax it will be so much easier to use positive language and you will become a much happier parent and it will improve your relationship with your child.
Related: 6 Ways to Stop Being an Angry Mom
Positive language can change everything
If you start using more positive language in your home, and even come away with commands altogether, you are going to find a huge difference.
You are going to feel happier to use more positive language.
Your children will feel more confident when they need to follow instructions.
You will have fewer arguments with your kids.
There will be less drama in your home.
More of the time spent with your children will be happy, warm memories.
If you use positive language with your children it can change everything. You can develop a strong, warm relationship with them which will last a lifetime and will equip them with more confidence which will also help them academically.
Gentle Parenting approaches like this one might not come naturally to everyone, but when you start to implement Gentle Parenting in your home you will see amazing results.
To get started with Gentle Parenting why not grab our 2-week challenge? This free challenge will give you a small daily task to help you become a gentle parent. Download it below!
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The Moving Mama
Lizzy Mash is an experienced early childhood educator now living in Africa as a missionary working with children and families.
She teaches Christian moms how to take a more respectful and Christ-like approach to motherhood by using Gentle Parenting strategies.
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