The way we speak to children has a significant impact on the relationships we build with them and the way they go on to communicate with others. Being intentional with the language we use can reinforce positive behaviour, make children feel noticed and connected as well as build their vocabulary.
Children experience a lot of language in the course of their daily lives. They are hearing conversations occur all around them. Research says that we focus on the first and last few words of a sentence. Instead of saying no or not, by using positive language children are hearing what their parent or the adult wants them to do. This helps the child to better understand the world around them and why they should behave in a certain way, instead of questioning why they should stop doing what they were doing.
When we re-frame what we are saying it has a much more positive impact on the child’s emotions and behaviour. Parent or not, anyone can get frustrated when a child is being too noisy and disruptive. Instead of telling them to “Be quiet” in a firm or frustrated tone, just stop and ask them calmly “Could you use a softer voice?”. If this does not work, then try that again and add an explanation as to why that softer voice is required. If they are frustrated and whining instead of saying “Stop whining” you can instead say “Please use your words so I can understand what you want.” Children need an explanation to understand why they should behave in a certain way. They are still learning the social norms that society expects.
Children express their emotions in various ways but as every adult knows a child can cry and get upset very easily. More often than not, the child is crying for a reason. If they can communicate verbally, then give them the opportunity to sit and talk. Do not downplay their emotions and tell them “Don’t get upset”. Give them the chance to talk about it. Instead of saying “Don’t cry” or “don’t get upset” say “It is ok to feel sad. What has upset you?”
Negative language can create confusion for children when they don’t know why you want them to stop what they are doing. This confusion can also make them feel discouraged as though they can’t do anything right. Children respond to any form of attention, so be intentional with your attention. Reinforce the good behaviour and create a positive culture. This will give them clear guidance about what good behaviour means to you without making them confused or feel bad about themselves.
It may take time to master, but once you start re-framing the way you speak to your child it will become natural. The use of positive language will make your life easier too!