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