Positive Ways to Speak to Your Child, Part II

Click here to see the introductory post.  This is a continuation of those ideas.

*Lower your voice.  This goes along with always speaking kindly.  There’s no need to raise your voice, and when you do the child tunes out.  It is possible to administer consequences while speaking calmly!  You can have a stern or serious look and it’s not “kind” as in giving in to any complaints or demands from them.  It’s just “kind” as in not yelling and speaking respectfully, not resorting to “Why can’t you be a good boy?” or “You’re always doing this!”  Don’t belittle him or give a huge exasperated sigh.   YOU have to model using your words even when you’re angry, and it’s super hard!  I am not telling you to do this like it’s so easy or I was perfect at it.  It’s something we strive for.  It’s the ideal.

See Practice Patience for tips on how to calm yourself down.  When you reprimand, use short sentences, and include what to do as well as what not to do.    Some examples: “I did not like the way you were talking to your sister.  Please speak kindly to her.”  “We do not draw on the wall in our house. We draw on paper.” “You need to listen when I am talking to you.”

*Don’t ask “Why did you do that?” The child doesn’t know why and if he did he can’t express it.  Don’t go on about how he always does this; haven’t you learned? This is the 4th time I’ve told you; you should know better; etc.

*When appropriate, ask the child instead of tell them – let her tell you. Help her understand what the natural consequences of behaviors are. For example, don’t say, “Your bike will get stolen if you leave it out,” because she thinks, ‘No, it won’t’, and then she is bugged at you and not thinking or learning anything. Instead, ask her, “What do you think could happen to your bike if you leave it out?”  Say only a few words and ask questions that put her in the role of problem solver, with you.

*How to give instructions

-Be close to your child. Go to where she is and get on HER level – this is another key parenting principle that parents underestimate the importance of.

-Look her in the eye, not like an intense, hypnotic stare – just regular eye contact.  This requires being close and gets her attention.

-Speak in a way she can understand.  You don’t have to explain the whole situation, just find some simple reason why she shouldn’t do that thing.  “You need to go to bed because it’s bedtime.”  “You need to clean your room because it’s important in our family to take care of our things.”  Or give a creative reason: “We can’t play with this dolly anymore because she needs to go to sleep now.”

-MOST IMPORTANTLY, stay close to see if the instruction is completed.  The older the child is the more you can expect he will follow instructions without you right there, but we’re talking 8 years old!  Until then, if you’ve given an instruction and expect some behavior you better be pretty close by to see if it’s really done.  Parents who walk away after giving the instruction lose their child’s attention.  The child figures they didn’t really mean it, and often the parents don’t notice that the instruction wasn’t followed until quite a few minutes later.  This is an astronomical waste of time!  Then the parent says, “John, why didn’t you do _________?”

Children are natural dawdlers (I’m sure you’ve noticed 🙂 ).  You must be close by to keep them on task.  I’m not saying be right next to them at every second; I’m saying be aware of what they are doing; help them stay on task; also – this is key – commenting positively when they do stay on task!  Staying close and following through take extra time, but the investment in time will pay off in the end – your child will be more compliant and obedient and take your words more seriously.  I see this so often with ineffective parents: they call out instructions in a distracted way (“Go clean your room!”), usually multiple times, and then 5 minutes later say with exasperation, “I’ve told you this five times!”  It’s so tempting to think your children are more independent than they really are, that they will manage this task without your supervision.  Sometimes they do – and then they lull us into thinking they can do that every time.  But for the most part, you’ve got to be there, observing the behavior and making sure the thing gets done.

*Have her say, “Okay mommy.” When you give instructions have her reply, “Okay mommy” so you know she understands and also to boost compliance.  Having this confirmation that your message was received requires that you are close by, giving full attention to the task at hand, and that she is listening and processing the instructions.  When you’re giving instructions or explaining expectations this is an especially helpful phrase.  I purposely left out the comma because I used this phrase so much I ended up saying it without the usual pause implied by a comma!  I’ve mentioned this before (and say it again in Use Your Words) but words can have a very powerful effect.  If you can teach her to say ‘Okay mommy’ there is a much higher chance that she will actually do the thing she agreed to.  She verbally agreed to do it, so she feels more compelled!  It’s like magic.

If a child responds to instruction with a no or a complaint or a fit, I walk over to her, look her in the eye, and calmly say, “When I tell you to do something, I want you to say, ‘Okay mommy’.  Do you understand? Let’s practice.  Jane, please pick up your toys.”  Then hopefully she says ‘Okay mommy.’

As I explained in Explain Expectations I don’t expect perfect compliance with this ‘Okay mommy’ response every time, but I teach it every time.  This is not a set up for a control battle!  I try to get her to do it.  Sometimes it’s not worth the fight to enforce it.  Also, if I’m trying to get Jane to clean up her toys there are many other tricks and tools I use than just repeatedly saying “pick up your toys”!  See future posts for some ideas on this.

Continue reading on Part III.

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