Say This, Not That – A Parent’s Guide On Using Positive Language

There are many high points of being a parent, but one single challenge that all parents face is how to talk so your kids listen. The way we talk to our kids has a huge impact on their learning and ability to listen to us. We are constantly modelling to our kids how to act and behave and the way we talk to them fits right into this category. The way we speak to them and those around us is showing them how we want them to speak back to us. We often ask others around if there’s a parent’s guide on using positive language? Don’t we?

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language

Positive behaviour management is about using a positive rather than a negative approach to encourage children to understand their behaviours and the impact they may have on themselves and those around them. This encourages you to focus on the positive areas and praise these rather than always focusing on the negative elements.

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language

A parent’s guide on using positive language – Tips to improve the way we talk to our kids:

1. Use your child’s name

Your own name is music to your ears. Our kids are no different, plus it helps to get their attention before delivering your message. e.g. “Angad, please go and get……..”. Young children can often only concentrate on one thing at a time. Call your child’s name until you have their attention before you speak. E.g. “Aditya”. (Wait until he stops kicking the ball and looks at you.) “We have to sleep in ten minutes”.

2. Use positive language

Try not to be saying “NO” or “DON’T” all of the time. There is no doubt that if we say “Don’t drop that glass” or “No running inside” or “Don’t drag your shoes” your child has that image and thought in their mind and more times than not, they will drop the glass! Instead, try to word what you want them to do. Such as, “Only walking inside please” or “Hold onto that glass, it is a special one” or “Walk smartly so your feet don’t make noise”. This requires much thought and practise but is well worth the effort. Try to eliminate words you use that may be ridiculing (“You’re being a dirty child.”), name-calling (“You’re a really bad boy.”), and shaming (“I was so ashamed of you today”). 

This type of language achieves very little except leaving your child feeling worthless. Kids will often cut off communication with those who use these words with them and begin to develop a poor self-concept. Positive and kind words give your child more confidence, make them feel happier, helps them behave better, encourages them to try hard, and achieve success. They learn to imitate you and deliver the same respect and praise to others. Examples of positive words are: “I liked that you remembered to pack up your toys”, “Thank you for helping me clear the table after dinner”, “You tried so hard to share your things with your friend, I am so proud!”.

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language

3. Connect with your child with eye contact

You may need to get down to their level or sit at the table with them. When you are chatting with your kids, this shows them also what they should do. Not only is it good manners, but it also helps you to listen to each other. Say your child’s name until you get their eye contact, especially before giving them a direction. It is important that they give you their attention, and you should model the same behaviour for them.

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language

4. Use volume appropriately

Don’t ever compete with a yelling child. For there will only be noise, and no communication. When they have calmed down, then talk. If you use the volume of your voice appropriately for the majority of the time, raising your voice in an urgent situation should not be ignored. They will sit up and take notice because it doesn’t happen all of the time.

5. Suggest options and alternatives

When you want your kids to cooperate with you, it is far easier if they can understand why they need them to do something and how it is to their advantage to do so. They need to see the importance of following your directions. For example, “When you finish your homework, you may watch a little TV”, “Which umbrella would you like to carry, the red one or the black one?”. Using words like “when” and “which” makes the child feel as though they have choices, even though there is no room for negotiation. This works far better than using “if” words. Also, try to include your child in helping you solve a problem. For example, instead of saying “Don’t leave your toy cars all over the floor!”, try saying “Angad, think about where you should store your toy cars so they’re in a safe place, come and tell me when you’ve decided on a good spot.” Alternatives are much better than straight out “NO” or “DON’T”. For example “You can’t get the Meccano out just now, but you could play with your Beyblade instead”.

6. Keep away from nagging

Nobody likes a helicopter buzzing over their heads all the time! Writing things down (for older kids) or having a chart with incentives in place, eliminate lots of nagging. It is important to make sure you recognize and praise effort, and reward desired behaviour. Try to set a time where kids know what is expected. They thrive on routines. For example, set a time by which they must finish homework. And reward them for meeting the deadline. This is an important point in a parent’s guide on using positive language

7. Model and expect good manners

Good manners are never optional. If you model good manners to your children and everyone else, they will see those good manners are expected and displayed on a consistent level. Teach children to say “please” and “thank you” before they can talk. Since it is ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’, parents should also say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to your kids.

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language

8. Be gentle but firm

If you have made your decision about something, stick to it. Make sure you and your partner agree on the issue and stay united on your decision. This prevents kids from playing one parent off against the other.

9. Check for understanding

If you feel that your child is not responding to your requests or getting confused by your instructions or conversations check if they could comprehend what you said. Ask them to repeat what you said. If they can’t, you know that it is too long or complicated for them to understand. Try to rephrase your choice of words with shorter and simpler sentences.

10. Make time for one-on-one conversations

This is crucial if the age gap between your kids is considerable. Older kids usually talk over the top of the younger ones, and the younger siblings just prefer to let the older siblings do all the talking. Conversations with older siblings can sometimes be over and above the younger kids’ level of communication. Try to get some time alone with each child so you can really talk at their level and use appropriate vocabulary. 

A Parent's Guide On Using Positive Language


There are generally 3 ways in which parents communicate with their children. All these are integral in a parent’s guide on using positive language.

1. Aggression

These parents yell a lot, put their kids down, and use attacking words. Their children respond in many different ways, mainly by playing up a lot more, feeling fearful, yelling back, and ignoring their parents’ constant orders.

2. Passive Responses

The more toned down parents mutter soft, cautious words and tones to their kids finding that they run riot and walk all over them. Unfortunately, these parents are so passive that sometimes when they are pushed to their limits, they suddenly turn their communication into an aggressive tone.

3. Assertion

An assertive way of communicating is firm, consistent, clear, positive, warm, and confident. Communicating with kids in an assertive way is a real skill yet it shows your kids that mum and pa know what they’re going on about and to listen.

I have these ‘Golden Rules’ we all follow (or at least try to) at home and I have noticed that behaviour with each other (parent and child) is generally regulated by these:

  • We listen to people, we don’t interrupt
  • We are honest; we don’t cover up the truth
  • We are kind and helpful; we don’t hurt anybody’s feelings
  • We are gentle, we don’t hurt others
  • We try to work hard, we don’t waste time
  • We look after property, we don’t waste or damage things

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3 thoughts on “Say This, Not That – A Parent’s Guide On Using Positive Language”

  1. Wonderful post…i love it…lot of important points and most appropriate post for the current parents…as a parents we should learn these things and we should always follow this…nice thoughts and thanks for sharing such a wonderful post..