Positive Phrasing

In a previous blog we explored conflict resolution with children.  Our discussion on conflict resolution centered around working with children to find a solution, empowering children to grow and to solve problems.  Another way we empower children is when we speak with them using positive phrasing.

What is positive phrasing?  Quite simply, positive phrasing is talking to a child using words that direct them towards solutions, what they “can do” instead of what they “cannot do”.  A simple concept, yet powerful in implementation, in the message given to the child.

How many times have you as a parent, a teacher, a childcare professional told a child to “Stop doing that”? Or asked in frustration “Why is this room such a mess?”, or “Why are you bothering me?” when a child interrupts you while you are trying to have an adult conversation?  All the previous phrases are constructed to stop activities, but give the child no way to move forward.  Instead, try taking a calming breath before you respond, and try these phrases instead:

Instead of: “Stop doing that”, try saying: “You need to find something else to do.” You might need to add, “Here are your choices…” if the child needs further direction.

Instead of: “Why is this room such a mess?”, try saying: “Please put the toys on the shelf.”  You can even make a game of clean-up by setting a timer and pitching in to see who can get the most toys picked up before the timer goes off.

Instead of: “Why are you bothering me?”, try saying: “I can only hear one person at a time. I will listen to you when I am done with my phone call in 10 minutes. “  I suggest you pair this response with a timer, or a measurable time, such as “when two songs are done playing”, and stick to your side of the deal.

In all the above examples, you are giving the child a way to move forward.  You are constructing your phrases in a way to stimulate their thinking towards solving the problem at hand.  You are telling them that they “can”.  If all a child hears is “no” and “you can’t”, that child internalizes failure.  When instead a child is redirected, they began to internalize success.  Our goal as caretakers of children should always be to help the child to be successful, to stimulate growth, to internalize positive messages.  Positive phrasing can contribute to behavior management in a way that helps a child learn and move forward.

Take a few minutes to think through common phrases that you say when talking with your child, or the children in your care.  Write down a few of these phrases and then brainstorm some ways that you can reword your phrase in a more positive way.  Practice the positive phrases out loud.  As simple as this exercise sounds, in practice you may find rephrasing more difficult than you anticipate.  A little awkward at first, keep trying until this new way of communicating becomes habit.  Your effort and your example will make a difference, a difference that helps lead to happier times for both you and your children.

Carol Morrone
Children Unplugged

Our society is increasingly technology oriented.  Just a few decades ago we never even knew about the Internet and now we can’t seem to live without being online all day, every day … including our youngest children. While tech skills are a valuable tool, as parents and professionals who work with children, we need to help children in our care balance their lives, to use technology as a tool, as a means to an end, not the destination. Please understand, I am not anti-tech; technology is here to stay and an integral part of all our world.  My concern is that children are encouraged in all areas of their lives and their development.

One of the questions I get asked most by parents of young children is how much tech time is too much.  Interestingly, parents were asking this same question about television not that long ago.  Equally of note, the answer is the same – if your child has no other activities or interests that are “unplugged”, they need to broaden their activities. In fact, social skills are ironically the collateral damage from too much social media. Many adults and children are spending so much time in the virtual world that they don’t know how to act when dealing with the person in front of them. When we are looking from a developmental perspective, a media overload hinders a child's ability to separate fantasy from reality leading to stunted social growth.

Children, especially young children, learn best by doing.  Children need to be engaged in a multitude of activities that challenge all their senses, encouraging growth in all areas – physical, social, emotional, and cognitive.  These areas, or domains of child development, are inter-related and cumulative in their effects on each other area as well as overall child development.   When children are not given the opportunities to develop across all domains, their growth becomes stunted with lasting effects.  If a child spends most of their time on a computer or tablet, that object becomes their focus and their reality.  We need to encourage our children to run, to jump, and to interact with other children.  We need our children to experience life in real time, not only at the fastest speed that our Internet provider can supply.  We need our children to deal in person, face-to-face, with peers to learn negotiation skills, and, with adults close to them to serve as role models.

As adults in a child's life, we have a responsibility to serve as that "live" role model.  The adage "Do as I say and not as I do" never has worked long-term.  Remember we talked in previous blogs about purposeful parenting.  There is no greater purposeful act you can perform as a parent than being a role model for the values and life you want for your child.  Unplug as a parent, as a family – talk, play a game, read a book, run outside.  As a childcare provider or educator, check that your lesson plans include activities that encourage growth and exploration in all domains, not just cognitive, not just high tech.  To teach our children to lead a balanced life we need to encourage balanced growth.  Take one small step today – put down the technology and pick up a book.  Hold your child, read together, discuss, analyze, explore.  Reading together, one simple act, crosses into all domains of development.  Your child may initially complain, but done right, you are making memories that can't be captured online.


One of the best analogies I have ever heard to help parents understand sibling rivalry I read in a wonderful book, Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, published in 1987.  At the risk of aging myself, I still recommend you go to your nearest library or bookstore (yes, both still exist) and see if you can find a copy of this wonderful resource for parents (this book is also available in electronic version, a testament to the timeless advice). 

In the second chapter of their book, Faber and Mazlish lead the reader through a scenario broken down into smaller pieces to help you feel and see through a child’s eyes the “wonderful experience” of becoming a sibling.  To paraphrase, and slightly embellish, the analogy presented is asking you to imagine how you would feel if your spouse came home all excited, sharing with you the fantastic news that since you are so wonderful, another spouse is going to join the two of you!  Of course, the new spouse is younger and cuter, and gets all the attention of everyone who has been adoring you as the “one and only” for years.  To show you are still important, you get a new t-shirt declaring “I am the older spouse”, and get to pick out a new gift – oh, not for you, the gift is to welcome your new best friend.  No doubt, you will understand how you must be patient, and be quiet around the house, and get less attention, and share your things.  So many people will come to visit and “oooo” and “ahhh” over the newest family member, but don’t worry, they will be sure to ask you if you’re excited, too.  Who wouldn’t be?

Yes, the analogy is funny, but real if you are the older child welcoming a new baby into the house.  As adults, we would never tolerate the situation described above, yet, we ask our children to do so with no complaints. In fact, we are baffled and even angry when we don’t see our own enthusiasm with the new baby mirrored in our older child. Still wondering why sibling rivalry exists?

OK, I’m not advocating a single child policy.  The issue of if and how many children to have is a very personal decision.  What I do advocate is for parents (and other well-intentioned adults) to remember that a new baby may not be the fantastic news for a child that we expect.  An older sibling is still a child, and more than ever needs love and attention and reassurance when a new baby is born.  As children grow up together, parents need to continually look for the unique qualities in each child, the unique gifts and talents each child possesses.  One size fits all, or treating each child exactly the same does not work in the long term if we are to help each child grow to reach fullest potential.  As the parent, you are the person responsible to nurture and to care for each child, setting an example is your responsibility, not the responsibility of the older sibling. The quickest way to inflame sibling rivalry is to hold an older child accountable for the well-being of their younger sibling.  True, older children can be a big help with younger siblings, but the responsibility lies with the parent.  Remember to give each child special time with you “sibling free”, as well as alone time to pursue interests and friendships outside the sib group. 

In all your interactions with your children, strive for purposeful parenting.  When dealing with conflicts between children, work on developing conflict resolution skills.  Be conscious that what works for one child may not work for another.  Fair and equal are not the same word, or actions, and your interactions with each of your children may be different. Avoid comparisons. Think in terms of “I love you each uniquely”, when accused of loving one child more (yes, even from the most lovable cherub this accusatory phrase will almost inevitably sprout).  Don’t expect your children to fulfill your dreams, they will have their own.  Don’t expect each child to be just like their older or younger sibling – different is ok, and some children will test you more than others.  Most importantly, model love and respect for each child and with others, for your values are the essence of parenting that will stay with your children throughout their lives, the roots and wings that will nurture siblings into adulthood and, who knows, maybe even best friends after all!

Inclusive Environments

"Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”                                                                                                                       –Albert Einstein

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to how we are, and are not, creating inclusive environments for children in our society.  I had a wonderful and interactive webinar with the American Library Association.  I hosted a guest blogger (see last month) who is an attorney practicing in special education law.  Perhaps most inspiring, I have received a number of emails recently from people reaching out to KIDapp, individuals sharing their stories and networking to advocate for children with special needs.  What strikes me the most across all these contacts is that we are all looking for ways to spread the word – these are our children, our future.  Unfortunately, what strikes me next is how we need to label our children, to focus on perceived deficits, too often to get necessary support.

Let’s consider for a moment our health system.  Whether we are talking about physical health, mental health, emotional health, we first look to diagnose.  A diagnosis, by very definition, focuses on identifying deficits, telling us what is wrong, undesirable, needs correcting. We speak of disability – a lack of ability – when talking about what a child needs.  We are always looking for what we need to fix, a way to manage behavior that is outside of what we expect.  Our medical system, our legal system, our educational system all work to help us if we get that diagnosis.

Instead, let’s consider what a child needs to succeed regardless of diagnosis.  What happens when we give a child who has difficulty sitting still the chance to get up and move?  What happens when get down to eye level to help a child focus? How can we simplify and clarify directions?  How about if we get a little less done today because we go off on that learning tangent and consider “what if’?  Will a quiet break, or a movement break, or a break to dance and enjoy the rhythm detract from those children who are able to function without these moments?  At what point does a child cross over from “normal” to “special needs”?  Are we considering their needs, or our need to control and to contain behavior that is difficult for adults?

Please know that I am not looking to minimize extraordinary parents who deal with extraordinary situations caring and encouraging their children.  Quite the opposite.  I am challenging all of us to consider if our words and our actions are supporting that child and family, or helping to keep them contained so that we are more comfortable.  I am challenging professionals to think about assumptions made once a diagnosis is shared.  I am challenging parents to keep advocating for your children, regardless of diagnosis or need, to help each child reach their fullest potential.  I am challenging society to change words, actions, thoughts.  We must change our thinking, not our children, if we are to create inclusive environments. We must begin looking at the positive, the abilities, the extraordinary gifts and talents of each child.

Educational Advocacy for Your Child

This blog is presented by Sharon L. Falen, J.D., who is a licensed and practicing attorney in the State of Illinois.  Any questions for Ms. Falen can be submitted through the contact page.

Special education is governed by federal and state legislation.  Broadly, every child in special education is guaranteed the right to a free and appropriate education.  In short, this term means that educational opportunities cannot be denied a child because he or she has a special need that interferes with learning within the general educational setting.  Examples of special needs are learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and emotional disorders that impact the child’s ability to learn and to demonstrate that learning through testing and other standard assessments.  This means that whether a child has ADHD, dyslexia, Autism, anxiety, or another disability, that child may be eligible for special education.

Special education must be provided by a school if a child is determined to be eligible.  There are two main mechanisms through which schools most often provide education services:  a Section 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program.  An Individualized Education Program, or “IEP”, has more protections for families but is more difficult to obtain; a “504 plan” imposes less requirements on a school but is broader.  This article addresses only these plans and only briefly, but it is important to know that other mechanisms and protections exist that are beyond the scope of this article.

A 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law requiring any agency that receives federal money to prohibit discrimination, and the law applies to school districts.  Under the law, school districts may not deny a child an education because the child has a disability.  Being eligible under Section 504 does not automatically mean that a child is eligible for special education services, but often a 504 plan will be developed for a child who needs assistance, accommodations, or modifications in school when he or she is not made eligible for an IEP.  A 504 plan may contain some of the same provisions of an IEP – such as extended time for tests, movement breaks or voluntary time outs, the use of an emotional identification board, or the use of an object or sensory item during class – but often without as much detail.  The law on 504 plans is limited, imposing far fewer procedural rules on schools and far fewer formal protections for students.

An IEP stems from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requiring schools to develop detailed educational plans if a child is found to be eligible for special education.  The first step is eligibility, as a student does not automatically receive an IEP because he or she has a disability; the disability also must negatively impact his or ability to learn.  The parents (or the school) must request in writing what is called a case study evaluation, to which the school has fourteen school days to grant or deny.  If granted, then the school must conduct the evaluation and subsequently hold the initial meeting within sixty school days.  The evaluation of the student is conducted by school personnel, including but not limited to teachers, psychologists, social workers, and specialists who assess the child under multiple areas of concern.  A child may be made eligible for special education under a variety of categories, called domains.  If an IEP is developed, then ideally the school and the parents work together to determine what services and accommodations or modifications the child might need to succeed.  The “IEP team” drafts goals that must be individualized to the student, concrete, and measurable by school data.  Examples of straightforward goals could be decreasing interruptions or missed work and measuring progress by tracking the number of times that the child interrupts class or misses an assignment.  Another example could be a goal of meeting specific benchmarks in a school district’s reading comprehension program.  Services often address academic and non-academic issues that are inhibiting the child from learning.  Additionally, the school is required to consider what the least restrictive environment is in which to educate the child.

Parents may advocate for their children for special education services.  The Illinois State Board of Education website offers information for parents covering a variety of areas in special education.  However, even armed with some knowledge of the process and the law, parents may face obstacles with communicating with their child’s school, obtaining appropriate and requested resources, or other issues.  Parents have the option of using legal counsel to assist them in navigating the process, attending school meetings, and filing for due process (i.e. initiating a formal hearing) when necessary. 

Setting up Boundaries

Last month we touched upon ways that adults can help empower children to learn ways to problem solve, specifically in regards to conflict resolution.  Dealing with children in the moment is a great way to help children learn to apply new skills.  As with all new skills, the best way to teach is through engaging the learner, in this case the child or children involved in a conflict.  Engagement of participants is also desirable when we are talking about setting up proactive systems, or rules in our homes and schools which provide structure and boundaries. Setting up rules lays the foundation for conflict resolution if a dispute arises.  Let’s examine this topic a little more deeply.

First, we need to accept the fact that conflict will arise.  When we are living and working with children, these conflicts can escalate quickly as children are first learning to recognize and to control emotions.  When setting up rules, we need to set aside time before a conflict occurs to discuss in concrete terms acceptable parameters for behavior.  Keep the age of the children in mind when creating rules, the younger the children, the shorter the list.  When dealing with young children, a general rule of thumb is one rule for each year old of the youngest child (family), or average age (classroom).  Since two year olds are starting to assert their independence, this is a great age to start by repeating the basics when correcting and redirecting behavior, for example (age 2 – 2 rules!) “We do not hurt other people” and “I need to keep you safe.” Yes, two year olds will still protest being moved away from a toy or activity, but you are also offering information as to why the rule needs to be enforced.  Granted, your words may not always be heard, but you are modeling important behaviors that a young child will internalize before being able to verbalize their own actions.

Second, we need to engage the learner – that is, we need to include children in age-appropriate ways when setting up the rules.  In our example in the paragraph above, our two-year-old is not able to participate actively in rule making, however, since we have been verbalizing the rules to the child, by age 3 most children can contribute.  Whether at home or in a class setting, start by asking the three-year-old child, or children, to state the first two rules, then ask them for suggestions for a rule #3.  I do not mean to imply that a preschooler runs your home or classroom, but that you take the opportunity to hear what the child in your care considers important.  You may be surprised.  Once several options are presented, as the adult, take charge to openly critique the possibilities and lead the group, or your child, to a final choice.  An example may be “Each child is allowed one special toy that needs to be put away when others are around to play.”  While the rule list may not be all inclusive, every rule on the list should be able to be enforced consistently.

Consistency is paramount when creating rules.  Children thrive on predictability.  To give rules meaning, a child needs to know the rules will be enforced.  Again, let’s look at our example above.  You are a teacher in a classroom of three-year-old children who are having Show and Tell time.  After the activity one of the children wants to play with the toy that someone else brought from home, and tries to invoke the group care mantra “we all share”.  You can support both children involved by pointing to rule #3 which everyone chose together, “I know you would like to play with Joey’s puzzle, but that is his one special toy…. Joey, you need to put your puzzle in your cubby now that Show and Tell has ended and we are all playing together.” Neither child is the “winner” or “loser” since both were involved in the creation of the rule, “What does Rule #3 say?”.  Of course, there still may be disappointment, that’s ok to acknowledge, but the solution is not a matter of choosing one child over the other.  When children are involved in setting up the rules ahead of time they are more likely to accept the consequence during a dispute, even if they are upset in the moment.

 All children will not respond equally.  Some of our kids may be living with needs which require a different approach than that which works with most.  Rules are important in setting up appropriate environments in which children can thrive, and the needs of each child needs to be considered when we examine our expectations.  Next month KIDapp will be hosting a guest blogger, an attorney practicing in education law, who will offer some information on how parents and schools can work together in developing appropriate accommodations for a child who needs special help.  Any parent or professional who has concern about a child in their care who just seems to need “more” will want to be sure to read this special article.  In the meantime, make some time to truly listen to a child.

Roots & Wings ... Wings

Last month we begin the discussion of what “roots & wings” means in regards to helping children grow and develop to their fullest potential.  We touched upon ways we can help encourage roots during the holiday season, and why nurturing these roots is important year round.  As promised, this month we are going to talk about the other half – the “wings” that we want to give our children.

As we began last month, let’s look at how the dictionary defines “wings”.   Dictionary.com defines wing as “either of the two forelimbs of most birds and of bats, corresponding to the human arms, that are specialized for flight…to travel on or as if on wings; fly; soar”.  I like relating the term “wings” to human arms since this part of the definition reminds us that as humans we are also part of the animal kingdom, and brings us back to looking at our children from a developmental, a biological, perspective when we examine the best ways to help our children grow and develop.  I also like how the definition states that wings are used to “soar”.  As I stated in last month’s blog, our job as parents and as professionals is to help our children achieve independence, to reach their fullest potential, to help them to soar.  Once again, the metaphor of “roots and wings” becomes essential to our work with children.

What are some essential ways that we can help our children, whether as a parent or as a professional, to develop “wings”, to soar?  Developing independence is something that begins early in life.  We need to continually find ways to encourage our children to think and to analyze and to question, leading to evolving problem solving skills which will serve them throughout life.  If we give children the answers without helping them ask the questions, we are neglecting to help them develop life skills. Let’s look at conflict resolution as an example.

How many parents, and professionals, have intervened when they see two young children arguing?  My guess is most of us have had that experience.  The simple solution I most often see is that the children are told by the adult what action they should take to resolve the conflict, such as “share with your friend”, “say you’re sorry”, “be nice”.  While all these suggestions may work short-term, and provide peace and harmony in the eye of the adult, what these solutions do not do is offer the children an opportunity to learn how to problem solve, to resolve their own conflicts.  Children learn by doing.  Childhood is a learning opportunity to prepare for adulthood.  Interventions by adults should guide and encourage children to develop skills, not merely solve the issue.

In our example above, instead of telling the children how to resolve their issue, ask them questions to help generate a solution.  Let each of the children tell their side.  Ask each child to offer a solution, and help each child to find the words to express to the other child their thoughts.  Phrases such as “How can you play together with the toy?”, or “Tell Ethan how you felt when he hit you”, empower the children to work together, to communicate, to generate a solution that they own.  Stay with the children until you are sure they are not going to hurt each other, but accept their solution even if not your idea of resolution. For example, the solution may be that the children decide they are not friends right now, that they do not want to continue to play together – that is ok! We are not all friends all the time.  The goal is to empower the children to decide.  Set up boundaries for conflict resolution with your children, or the group of children in your care, before issues arise, so you have a starting point when you encounter a conflict.  Let’s talk more about these boundaries next time.

Happy 2017 from KIDapp, as we welcome another year to live life through the eyes of a child!

Roots & Wings ... Roots

A wise woman once said to me: “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots; the other, wings.”  -- Hodding Carter, Where Main Street Meet the River, 1953 (Rinehart)


As I pondered the topic of the first official KIDapp blog, the above quote kept popping into my head.  I had heard the quote before, but never had known the origin.  While I credit quoteinvestigator.com and goodreads.com with giving me the most in-depth answers to my query, numerous references can be found with a simple computer search.  How very fitting, for the statement is quite profound when we talk about children.

Whenever I have the privilege of working with parents, I like to lay the foundation for all interactions by saying that the job of any parent, from the moment a child is born, is to help that child to leave the parent.  The same is true of professionals who work with children, from the moment that child comes into their life.  Yes, I have heard numerous gasps from the group when I first make my statement, but as we continue I believe the parents and professionals that I have met begin to understand.  I am talking about the delicate balance between “roots and wings”.  A child is a child for so few years, an adult for so many more, and we must continually find ways to nurture each child so they grow to be the best person which they are meant to be.

Let’s start by looking at “roots”.  What is a root?  Oxford Dictionaries defines root as: “the part of a plant that attaches it to the ground or to a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant via numerous branches and fibers.”  The visual image that definition conveys helps us to understand the importance of roots as a life-sustaining force.  The same is true of children.  Like a plant, children need to be attached, to draw support and nourishment from many sources, some obvious, some underground.  The roots that a child needs for support come from parents and family, and later from caregivers and educators.  Children need to feel a part of something bigger.   They need to feel connected.  One simple way that parents can give their children roots is through family stories and traditions, and what better time than the holiday season to nurture these connections.

Holidays are steeped in tradition, whether stories and ornaments and cooking family recipes together, or in frantic shopping and spending.  Which choice you make for your child will determine the memories your child will take into adulthood, and will likely share with your grandchildren.  Passing down memories and time together as a family connects a child through the generations, creates roots that run deep and provide nourishment when times get tough.  Ask your child what gift they got for Christmas three years ago and chances are they may not remember.  Ask your child to tell you about the time you dressed in antlers and danced around the Christmas tree and chances are you will relive the joy.  Better yet, ask Grandma about her favorite holiday memory and watch your children listen entranced by history – their history, their roots.  What memories do you have from childhood?  How can you share your history with your children?  How can parents combine memories from both their childhoods to nurture all the roots of their children?  For professionals who work with children, how can you incorporate sharing of family traditions in your rooms, helping to nurture these roots to grow stronger?

Please check back next month when we will continue this discussion by talking about how we give our children “wings”.  In the meantime, make some memories, make some roots.  Happy holidays to all from KIDapp!

Welcome to KIDapp!


Welcome to KIDapp! We are glad that you found our site and hope you visit often.

This page will be devoted to topics dealing with kids, designed to offer insight and advice to parents as well as childcare and educational professionals.  Please be advised that while we hope you find the information presented useful and timely, no online advice can replace one-on-one discussions with a doctor or therapist if you have a concern about your child or a child in your care.

Upcoming topics will include behavior management, positive vs. negative reinforcement, positive phrasing, kids & technology...to name a few coming soon.  If you have an idea or topic that you would like to see appear on KIDapp, please contact us with your request.  Articles will begin appearing December 2016, so watch for your suggestion in an upcoming month.

In the meantime, please explore the rest of our site for other services we offer.  Check back often as we are just getting started and new services are continually being evaluated and added.  KIDapp is applying child development in today's world for all our children's tomorrows.

Take some time today to play!

Carol Morronetopics, intro, services