Positive Language and Parent–Child Relationship

Use of negative words while interacting with your child can be detrimental. Here are some tips to help you use positive language during conversations with your child.

By Amrita Gracias

Positive Language and Parent–Child Relationship

‘No’, ‘don’t’, ‘stop that’ – we use these words with our children more often than we should, unmindful of the adverse impact such negative remarks have on the young minds.

Using negative language with a child does not help him improve in any way. It only brings down his self-esteem, causing him to feel unsure of himself and confused. On the other hand, using positive language enables him to understand what is expected of him and makes him more willing to cooperate.

Here are a few tips to help make your conversations with your child more positive and create a stronger parent–child bond.

1. Replace the negative with the positive: While negative words help us give vent to our frustration, do they help the child? The answer is ‘No’. The biggest drawback of negative communication is that it fails to convey to the child what she should be doing. So, focus on using more positive terms when speaking. For instance, your child is running on the road and you would like her to walk. When you say, “Don’t run,” your child feels confused, as she is unable to understand what you mean. She may interpret your words as being asked to stop in her path. However, when you say, “Please walk,” your instruction is clear to your child. So, use words that help your child correct herself instead of using the terms ‘no’ or ‘don’t’. With time, you will find that your child is more willing to comply with what you say.

Here are a few positive alternatives to negative phrases:

  • Don’t shout – Talk softly please
  • Stop hitting her – Please be gentle with her
  • Stop crying – It’s okay to be upset
  • Don’t touch anything – Please keep your hands to yourself
  • You can’t play with that – Maybe we can play with that later

2. Use inviting words: Words like ‘let’s, ‘may’ and ‘can’ are better alternatives to ‘no'. For example, if your child wants to paint while having food, instead of saying “No, you can’t do that now,” say, “Let’s paint after we finish our lunch.” This makes him understand that he can take up the activity at a certain time. It also makes him feel pleased as his wish is being acknowledged, thus increasing his willingness to cooperate. Do remember to appreciate and praise your child when he cooperates with you by using positive phrases like, “I’m so pleased that you waited to finish your lunch before starting to paint”, or “Thank you for being patient.” Using negative words with older children can make them turn a deaf ear to what is being said or enter into an argument with parents.

3. Avoid hurtful or derogatory comments: Always be respectful when speaking to your child and avoid labelling her with words that hurt. When you use discourteous language, it deals a huge blow to your child’s sense of self-worth and confidence. While giving instructions or asking your child to do something, use polite words – for instance, “When you finish playing, please put back your toys in the basket.” Using polite words encourages positive responses. If your child has behaved inappropriately, use words that denounce the behaviour, but not her. Also, when you speak disrespectfully to your child, she is bound to pick up the habit and use similar language with others. Also, avoid making remarks that show a gender bias, such as, “Don’t cry like a girl.” Instead, you can say, “It’s okay to be upset.”

4. Avoid scaring the child: If you have the habit of scaring your child when he challenges you with bad behaviour, think again. Using phrases to scare your child, such as, “I will leave you and never come back” or “I will never forgive you,” are extremely damaging to his psyche. Although such talk may allow you to take control of the situation, it causes the child immense distress. And, they lose their effectiveness after some time, as your child becomes used to it. Also, scaring fill your child with anger and resentment, and causes conflict and power struggles.

5. Watch your tone and body language: Your body language, tone and manner of speaking are factors that contribute greatly to the message you wish to convey, and significantly influence your child’s behaviour and response. Use a pleasant and polite tone when you talk. Connect with her by making eye contact when you speak. This helps her relate better and understand what you are saying. A smile or pat on the back reinforces your words, and enables both positive and effective communication.

6. Speak as you would want to be spoken too: Don’t you feel annoyed when your child whines or speaks rudely? So, avoid doing the same. If your child raises his voice, don’t raise yours in the hope that it will make him listen to you. Wait till he calms down and then talk in a peaceful manner. Speaking after tempers have calmed down increases the prospects of using positive words and also makes you, for your child, a role-model worth emulating.

When you try to use more affirmative and assertive language, it has a positive impact on the relationship you share with your child, who feels encouraged and empowered. Restrict the word ‘no’ to emergencies or when your child is in imminent danger.


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