Using Positive and Kind Words
Teaching children what you want them to do is much better than telling children what you don’t want them to do. When told what not to do, a child’s young mind may not be mature enough to understand an alternative.
Teaching children what you want them to do is much better than telling children what you don’t want them to do. When told what not to do, a child’s young mind may not be mature enough to understand an alternative. When children don’t understand, they either shut down or repeat the undesired behavior. I am not saying to never say “no” or “don’t do that”; there are times that you must stop a dangerous behavior. In such cases, a sharp “stop” is called for, followed by a discussion on making better choices.
Children thrive on limits and knowing their boundaries. Giving them a positive alternative helps children to make better choices and to internalize the “why” behind your directive. When a child is running and you want them to walk, yelling “don’t run” isn’t always heard. Instead, “use your walking feet,” “tell your feet to walk,” or “stay with me and walk” are better phrases to use. Holding your hand when you expect a child to walk is good reinforcement.
Young children understand the world around them by using their senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, and vision. Telling a child “don’t touch” is many times ineffective. Instead, tell a child to “look with your eyes” and “hands on your body.” Make sure you are modeling what you expect. Modeling the desired behavior helps a child to really “hear” and “see” what you expect. You may need to model the desired behavior many times for it to become a normal behavior pattern.
A child’s behavior is often seeking to elicit an adult’s reaction. Let’s use the example of pulling a dog’s tail. A child pulls the tail, the dog yelps and the adult says, “Don’t pull the tail.” Most likely, your child will repeat the negative behavior because it received a reaction from you and the dog. Instead, take the child’s hand, pat the dog’s head or back, and use the phrase “we use gentle hands and the dog likes that.” A big smile of praise on the adult’s face reinforces the behavior we want to see.
Other positive phrases include telling your child what you want them to do. If they are playing in the sink with water, remind them to keep the water in the sink. However, I am a believer that if your child continues to splash it out, then you might want to move onto another activity. But first, your child needs to clean up the floor. This action helps your child to learn to correct the consequences of negative behavior and develop responsibility.
Just a word about using the phrase “Good job.” Children quickly learn that as an adult uses the phrase multiple times, it loses its effectiveness. Instead, tell the child what you like or ask a question. For example, a child is drawing a picture and you are proud of it. Instead of saying “great job,” ask the child what they were thinking about when they drew it, perhaps commenting on the colors they use and how they feel about their drawing. This scenario instills a sense of the child being proud of what they have drawn and not necessarily expecting adult satisfaction.
Anne E. Mead, Ed. D., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ct.us.