By Caitlin Winkler, PLPC
"Stop," "Don't," "No," and a list of similar words are common when correcting a child. At times, it may feel like these are the only words we know or that come out of our mouths. Every child is learning the do's and don'ts in life when they are growing up. "Stop pestering your sister," "Don't touch the hot stove," and "No yelling in the car," are all examples of basic skills we were taught. There is definitely a time and place for phrases like these, but all too often our parenting phrase repertoire mainly consists of statements telling our children what NOT to do. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to focus on what behavior you want to stop. In the long run it is not necessarily the best solution. By slightly altering our way of thinking and talking, we can help improve behavior and create a more positive environment.
Think of the last thing you praised your child for doing or saying. Can you remember? Some people feel silly and robotic when praising children and this may be part of why we choose not to praise them enough. At first, especially if this is a new concept, it may feel just like that. Once you start seeing results, it will come more naturally and be more genuine.
Here are the first five ideas to help you start this new style of parenting...
1. Find ANYTHING positive your child does or says and state out loud, with enthusiasm, how awesome it was. "Johnny, thank you so much for washing your hands!" or "I appreciate you arriving home before curfew, Bethany." This can especially important when you beginning this process.
2. Avoid saying "Good job" or another vague positive statement. Be specific about why you are proud of them. "Emily, you are doing a great job sharing your toys with Natalie!"
3. Use their name often when making your statement. This creates a sense of ownership and pride.
4. Show your excitement! Use your tone of voice, body language, eye contact, and actions to convey your message. Utilizing clapping, high-fives, fist bumps, affectionately squeezing a shoulder, telling everyone you meet what a great thing your child just did, or a secret handshake are a few examples of some simple tools. There are times where "throwing a party" is necessary to get the message across that the type of action or words they just had is exactly what you need from them. For example, if you are teaching responsibility by directing your child to clean up toys after playing and in the past this has been a battle, you would very enthusiastically clap, state positively worded phrases, and perhaps say "Wahoo!" or jump up and down when the child complies with your directions. For others on the outside looking in, you may look very silly, but when your child beams with pride and continues to pick up toys, it will be worth it! Get excited when your child does the right thing!
5. Make sure your positives outweigh your negatives. For every negatively worded statement, try to have ten positives. Again, even if it is a small thing, praise your child for making a great choice.
Use these as a starting point for your communication with your child. Remember, these can work at any age. Stay tuned for more ideas on how to positively communicate your expectations to your child.
Caitlin Winkler is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor at Unlimited Potential Counseling & Education Center in O’Fallon. Caitlin is under the clinical supervision of Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC (MO #2012026754).