Frustrated when your kids don’t follow instructions? Communicate effectively with kids by changing a few words.
Hang around kids long enough and you’ll know they don’t always follow instructions. If they do, they might spend a few minutes sulking or dragging their feet. Other times, they outright balk and refuse.
What if we can avoid much of that with a few simple tweaks to our words? Or a quick change in our tone of voice?
What and how we communicate to our kids sends powerful messages., sometimes so meaningful that it can alter their behavior and willingness to follow directions. It’s not just about getting something done right, but using the right words to make it clear.
Don’t worry, though. This isn’t a call to watch over everything you say, or a guilt trip (as if we need any more) about what we’re not doing. Instead, it’s a helpful reminder to be mindful of how we communicate, especially when we’re not even aware of how we sound or what we’re saying.
Communicate effectively with kids by changing a few words
So, what simple changes can we make that can yield drastic results in our kids? Check out these four tips:
1. Use positive language
I first learned about positive language from the book, Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. In fact, it was one of the first parenting books I read and changed the way I thought about how we speak to our kids.
But let’s backtrack.
Think about the many times we tell our kids some form of “no.” Don’t run. Stop playing with your food. No, you can’t use that marker.
It’s incredible how often we place these restrictions on our kids. And no matter how well the intentions may be, it can be difficult hearing them over and over.
With positive language, we rephrase the same intention, but in a positive way. Rather than “Don’t run,” we say “Walk through the hall.” Instead of “Stop playing with your food,” we say “Eat your food.”
Same goal, but said in a less restrictive way. Think about a child’s willingness to oblige. Telling someone not to do something feels like an attack or a restriction. He might follow, but he’ll do so begrudgingly.
But if we phrase it in a positive way, we remove any hint of restrictions or attacks. Yes, we’re still asking them to do something, but in a way that facilitates teamwork and guidance instead of orders and limits.
2. Tell, don’t ask
Some tasks call for no compromise. Maybe it’s taking a bath before bedtime, or visiting grandma on the weekend. But a big mistake we make when communicating these obligations? We ask.
My husband and I have been guilty of this many times. We’ll ask our kids, “Do you want to pee?” or “Should we put our jackets on today?” And more often than not, they’ll reply with a resounding “no.”
Now I’ve learned not to ask non-negotiable requests. We just say, “It’s time to pee before bath time” or “Here’s your jacket—it’s cold outside.”
Giving kids choices can be an option, especially when they put up a fight. But keep those options between two parent-approved choices, and not whether they want to do it or not.
For example, instead of “Should we put our jackets on today?” we can ask, “Which jacket do you want to wear—the blue or the red?” Wearing a jacket is non-negotiable, but which jacket he chooses can be.
3. Keep your tone conversational
Sometimes with the way we speak, we swear every request is a do or die demand. We bark orders or use a forewarning tone of voice.
What if we soften the tone of our voices and keep it conversational instead? Let’s say you’ve been struggling with getting your child out the door in the mornings for school. He wants to stay home and play all day, and transitioning to a new activity is a challenge.
Instead of assuming a bossy tone of voice, try to keep your words casual. “Oh hey, it looks like it’s 8 o’clock. Let’s start putting on shoes.”
We get so wound up is because we expect our kids to put up a fight. And rightly so, especially if they’ve been giving us a hard time. But disregard your child’s previous behavior and start new. Put down the defenses and stick to a casual tone. This avoids a bossy tone of voice and makes your child feel less defensive.
4. Frame your requests as a benefit
We’re all looking out for ourselves. Any request you can frame as a benefit to your child will be more successful than without one. So, what do I mean by a benefit?
Let’s say you want your child to quit goofing around and finish eating his dinner. We’ve learned not to say “Stop goofing off” and instead say, “Eat your dinner.” But let’s add another bit to that line and say “Eat your dinner so we have time to play at the park.”
Now the request ties to a benefit he understands–playing at the park. After all, kids may not always understand why we ask them to do certain things. He doesn’t know why he needs to eat dinner, or put on his shoes, or clean up his toys.
But when the action leads to a benefit he can understand, he feels more invested and motivated to follow through.
The longer I’ve been a parent, the more I’m convinced the way we communicate makes a difference in behavior.
We can use positive language so kids are more willing to oblige. We avoid asking them any tasks we need them to do, keep our tone conversational to avoid potential power struggles and highlight a benefit of doing a task they can understand.
These four simple tweaks can mean the difference between getting out the door on time and being late. Of kids brushing their teeth on their own and doing so with a scowl.
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Get more tips:
- Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham
- One Unusual Way to Stop Kids Whining
- Why Every Parent Needs to Show Empathy
- What to Do when Your Child Disrespects You
- 5 Things You Need to Do to Handle Your Threenager
Tell me in the comments: In what ways can you communicate effectively with kids by changing a few words?