As parents and caregivers, we may feel like when it comes to positive language, we’ve got it down. We constantly tell our children how much we love them, marvel at their latest scribbles, and throw small celebrations every time they utter a new word. While this type of communication is certainly positive and promotes healthy bonding, sometimes we forget about how often we say things like, no, don’t touch, and stop right there!
Every day, toddlers become more independent and curious to explore the world around them. That leaves us in a position to protect, shield, set boundaries, and frequently use words like no, stop, and don’t. Thankfully, there are easy ways to tweak the way we speak to use more positive language so we can provide a safe and fun environment for our children to learn and grow.
Why Use Positive Language?
It’s probably not hard to imagine why it’s frustrating for little ones to be told repeatedly that they can’t do something. For us, telling our child that they can’t put a coin they found on the ground in their mouth makes sense! We know all the reasons why this is dangerous. Unfortunately, toddlers haven’t yet developed the reasoning skills to put it all together. For them, persistent no’s can add up, sparking more tantrums and making them feel confused, confined, angry, and frustrated.
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Adjusting our requests and responses to reflect positive language is a fairly simple way to produce big changes in the way our kids think, feel, and process new information. Using more positive language can make them more self-confident, empathetic, and help them learn to choose better behavior.
How to Use More Positive Language
So how do we say yes when we mean no? First and foremost, it’s important to be more aware. Start small by paying more attention to how many times behaviors are halted, curiosity is cut short, or requests are shut down. This helps us identify the moments when our language could use some adjusting. Additionally, parents and caregivers can incorporate more positive language in the following ways:
Allowing toddlers to choose between two options has a lot of benefits, like boosting their independence and allowing them to feel more in control. Offering choices also helps parents and caregivers avoid saying no too often. For instance, if your tiny adventurer is playing too close to the pool, instead of saying, Don’t go near there!, you can say, Wow, you’re on the move today! Do you want to play over here in the grass or go inside and do an activity together? This helps distract them from the unwanted behavior while providing them with safer choices.
Tell Them What They Can Do
Showing your toddler what they can do instead of what they can’t do has a lot of advantages for both parents and kids. It helps us use more positive language and it helps them tap into better behavior. If you see your toddler attempting to draw on a wall, you can respond by saying, Yes! Let’s draw today! But let’s make sure we only do it on this paper.
Remind Them of the Behavior You Do Want to See
It can be difficult to dig deep for positive language when you see your child knocking over their brother’s LEGO tower. Reminding them of the behavior you do want to see can be more effective than simply saying no or stop that. Calming statements like, We love each other, so we take care of each other’s toys, can shed a positive light on moments that require discipline.
Provide Simple but Clear Explanations
As busy parents and caregivers, it’s easy to skip over explaining why we’re saying no. However, telling them why they can’t do something helps them learn. Instead of saying, Don’t put that coin in your mouth, you can say, I know it looks shiny, but putting a coin in our mouths can make us very sick. This gives them the opportunity to make a connection between a behavior and a consequence.
Try a Yes, Later Approach
As toddlers’ language skills grow, so do their requests! Can I have a cookie? Can we go to the park? Can I call grandma? As much as we’d like to grant all their wishes, it’s not always a good time for cookies or playing outside. As your little one begins to understand time, you can try a yes, later approach. For example, Yes you can have a cookie, after we have a healthy dinner first. This may spark some frustration, since they’re still learning what later or after means, but it does allow parents and caregivers to use more positive words while introducing toddlers to sequence words.
It can be tough to be a curious toddler in a world of limits and rules! Just remember that our words have power and a little positive language can go a long way.