Positive Talk with Children
Positive talk with children can be elusive. Often, we get lost in the busy “to do list’ of our lives. When our children don’t follow directions or listen to us, we fall into the usual negative talk. “Stop that now.” “Don’t touch that.” “Leave me alone.” Arguments, yelling, and fighting can take place.
It’s impossible to stop all the frustrating times with our children. However, remembering that sometimes we can change our reaction or approach, can prevent us from feeling bad. And positive talk prevents some of the negative feelings our children develop from constant negative talk. In addition positive talk with children involves the crucially important skill of listening. Other important aspects of positive talk with children include remembering that you’re talking with a child, asking questions, acknowledging feelings, teaching alone time, giving praise, and making apologies.
Remember That You’re Talking with a Child
Talk to children at eye level. When children are always looking up, especially when they’ve done something wrong, this is intimidating to them. Plus talking at eye level shows your children you have some respect for them.
Speak simply. A short sentence can go a long way. Responding to questions or misbehavior with one simple sentence will help a child stay on task and understand more clearly. Avoid a lecture. Avoid going on and on. At some point, they aren’t listening.
Offer two choices, either of which you approve. When children are given options, it encourages independence. When you approve of either of the two choices that you offer, it creates an opportunity for happiness and not frustration. For example, “Would you like to eat peaches or pears?” They still may want chocolate chip cookies, but you have not asked them, “What do you want to eat?” which incorrectly leads them to believe they can pick their meal or snack.
Ask questions only if you want your child’s opinion/answer. Asking, “Are you ready to go now?” gives a child the impression that if they are not easy, then you will wait. If you are not willing to wait, then tell them, “It’s time to go now,” so that there is no confusion. This allows them to know that there are times when their opinion matters. Accordingly, it lets them know that other times you are the one in charge, making the decisions.
Listen To Your Child
Stop and listen. We are often busy. Day in day out, there’s a lot to do. There’s laundry, meals, dishes, household cleaning, work outside the home, family needs, and more that keep us busy. However, none of those tasks help us to listen. Intentionally making the time to listen to our children can have a huge impact. There are techniques on how to listen to your child that can be learned easily. Our children can learn they are important by our interactions with them, not just what we do for them.
Set aside a time to listen. When we don’t have the time to talk, then it’s good to be honest. We can let our children know that “Right now is not a good time for me to talk with you. I want to hear what you have to say. I’ll make some time to talk with you later.” Remember to tell your child a specific time when you will talk. then stick to your word. That way they will respect your time. And they will still feel important.
Repeat or restate what you heard. Often, we hear what our children said, but we interpret it incorrectly. Other times, when we repeat it to them, and they realize that they misspoke. This encourages our children to develop great communication skills.
Ask open-ended questions. “How are you feeling?” allows our children to express whatever is on their minds. “You didn’t like that, did you?” limits what they will say. sometimes we need to hear all aspects of what their thinking so that we can best help them.
Ask specific questions. If there is a specific issue, open-ended questions may not give a parent the answer needed. “What was your favorite part of today?” “What upset you the most?” “Did you understand what you learned in math class today?” These are some examples of questions that allow our children to narrow the conversation enough so that they know their specific positive or negative emotions and experiences are important. You are less likely get short answers, such as “Good,” “Okay,” “Bad,” which are conversation enders.
Feelings Are Important
Encourage all feelings. It’s okay to feel sad. We often say, “Don’t be sad,” as if it’s a bad thing. This is hard to watch. Sometimes children just need to be held until the emotion passes and/or they express their feelings. Instead of pushing away unpleasant feelings, they will learn how to deal with their emotions, making them healthier children. Encouraging our children to feel their emotions gives them mental strength as adults too.
Share your feelings. “You made me sad when you lied to me.” “I had a hard day at work today.” This teaches them to think of others. It also shows them you are human too. However, make sure you keep this simple, as a child can easily be overwhelmed by adult emotions and their wish to please their parents. You want to share your feelings without making them feel responsible for your complete happiness.
Teach Alone Time
Teach our children to play by themselves. This will encourage independence which is essentially for their growth and development. It will also allow parents to act independently while getting our own tasks done.
Teach children that parents need alone time too. If you’ve ever been interrupted while on the toilet by your child, then you know the importance of your alone time. Shouting, “Leave me alone!” is not pleasant. Our children don’t like it, sometimes getting their feeling hurt. And we don’t feel good about ourselves afterward. Explaining to our children that we need “alone time” for a certain amount of time and to carry out a specific task is important. Our children will model after what we do, not just what we say. They will learn from us that our time is valuable which will lead to the eventual realization that their time is valuable too. It also teaches them that they are not the center of the universe. We will not stop to fulfill their every need every moment of the day. It teaches them that there is a time and place for everything. Lastly, it also teaches them to appreciate everyone’s need for alone time. In addition, this helps teach them to be considerate of other people’s time. This form of positive talk with children explains actions and validating our children.
General praise is good. “Good job!” is a form of positive talk. However, it leaves some room for interpretation. What exactly made it a good job?
Specific Positive Praise is better because it is an improved form of positive talk with children. Let them know exactly what behavior or speech that did that you liked and why you like it. This helps encourages positive behavior, and decreases negative behavior, improve self-esteem, and improves the parent-child relationship. “I like how you sat quietly and completed your homework,” is more likely to result in the child repeating the same specific behavior.
Admit when we are wrong. There are times that we have gone too far. We have said something that we shouldn’t have said or did something we shouldn’t have done. Children seem to know exactly how to overwhelm us when we are already overwhelmed. Simply saying, “I’m sorry. I was wrong to say/do that specific behavior.” Then offer the change you’ll make next time. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. Next time, I will tell you to stop playing video games, or else I will turn off your device.” In addition, consider asking our children what consequences they would like for their behavior. Usually, kids know what they’ve done wrong. They will come up with an appropriate consequence. This is self-empowering because they came up with the consequence. This helps our children know what to expect and the consequences of their actions if they don’t listen.
Apologize simply. “I’m sorry. You were right and I was wrong. And I’m so sorry.” This validates our children. They learn that they have good behaviors. Then learn their parents are human, make mistakes, and apologize when appropriate. They also learn that it’s okay to make mistakes. No one is perfect. In addition, parents are role models on how to apologize when we make a mistake.
• Winning Ways to Talk with Young Children by Virginia State University, Cooperative Extension Service – Dr. Valia Vincell, Child Developmental Specialist.
• 25 Ways To Talk So Children Will Listen by Dr. Sears
• 20 Ways To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen by Robert Myers, PhD