The Power of Language when communicating with Kids

A while back as we were heading out the gate for school drop, I clearly remember my other half, yelling across the back fence as we were piling into the car, “Henry, good luck with your test today. Don’t be scared!”

My stomach dropped and I took a very deep breath. As we got into the car, Henry said very directly to me, “Mummy, you know, I wasn’t scared about my test until Daddy just said that?!” And so then we had to have a little chat about understanding the brain and how it works. In kid version.

I’d anticipated his words, and later that day had a chat with hubby too, because here’s the thing…

“What we focus on is what we get”.

Language is a very very powerful influencer of the mind.

How many times a day or a week or across a month would you probably say the word “Don’t” to your child?

Did you know; our unconscious mind cannot process negatives? It likes to focus on the positive, along with doing it’s job of protecting us, keeping us safe and focusing on whatever you tell it to focus on.

So in fact, when we say to a child:

“Don’t be scared” – it will hear and think about ‘being scared‘.

Similarly, if you say;

“Don’t jump on the couch” – it will hear and think…. ooohhh, do jump on the couch and so then of course, what is the child tempted to do… Yes, start jumping or continue jumping on that couch! And best attempts at getting them to stop with one sentence alone, rarely ever work, unless there’s a harsh tone, threat and likely a raised hand. Most of us at some point have had to step in and whip said child off the couch.

So here’s a few ideas for switching up your language, so rather than having to use threats, bribes or rewards for changing some important behaviours, here’s a few ways to mix up your language:

Step 1: Say it differently

Instead of saying “Don’t do ___________! (Insert relevant instruction here) consider using alternatives that focus on what you want them to be doing instead:

– Instead of Don’t run – Go Steady
– Instead of Don’t touch – Take care, it’s hot!
– Instead of Don’t cross – Remain on the sidewalk… or stay back, keep your eyes peeled for cars etc. Safety is paramount.
– Instead of Don’t drop it – Hold tight to the handle. Perhaps put one hand on the bottom to support the mug/jug or bottle of milk 😉
– Instead of Don’t forget your sunscreen – Have you layered up? Popped on your sunscreen or maybe even say “What’s protecting your skin today?” Make them think about it.

And there are tonnes more examples, however I think you get the drift.

Reach out, if you have something you continually say and you’d like some help switching it up.

So some good alternatives to ‘Don’t;

– Remember
– Take Care
– Consider
– Have you …. in the positive rather than the negative
– Remain
– Stay calm / positive / focused

– Even give “Be kind and loving” rather than ‘Don’t hit your sibling…’ a go.

Most importantly – Switch it up.

Step 2: Provide choice

If you’re wanting to discourage a ‘less than ideal behaviour or habit’, help them with some choices.

Back to the jumping on the couch;

“Either sit on the couch or stand on the floor please” (you’re actually not even putting energy into the jumping factor 😉

We found safety and keeping our munchkins in one piece usually the most testing and stretching experience when the kids were little (and it continues to be)

Rather than say ‘Don’t run, don’t touch etc in terms of safety – REALLY focus on the ideal thinking and behaviour you’d like them to be learning.

For example: Rather than “Don’t run down the hill”, because you’re worried they’re going to fall over and hurt themselves – Use “Go steady running down the hill, it’s pretty steep, have fun.” Or enjoy your running, make sure you stop and check each driveway”… and hold them to it. Remind them to “Stop and Check each driveway.”

This provided a warning around the hill, or driveways and yet at the same time, it’s encouraging them to enjoy themselves and be responsible.

Will there be spills, burns, cuts and bruises? Yes, that it life! They have to experience those, as do we.

However, rather than be a Helicopter / Negative Nancy Parent, really empower your kids to think and be reponsible for actions and consequences.

Language has a very deep and powerful impact on them, both consciously and unconsciously. And it lasts… in short, if you spend your life telling them “Don’t Do _____ eventually they’ll stop bothering, trying or even attempting, fast-forward a few years complacency, low self confidence or risk adverse youth/adults.

So how many ‘Don’ts’ do you say a day?

Take care and remember this takes practice… you’ll catch yourself as they slip out. Have a laugh, we’re all human. Learn to reframe it – switch the focus to what you’d like your child or children to be doing instead and say it again.

Enjoy and with love,

Genevieve & The rest of the Matthews Family xx