In a Nutshell: Use Positive Directive Statements to tell kids what TO do, instead of what NOT to do.
About one fourth of my life has been spent changing diapers, so I am very familiar with restroom changing tables. Most of them have words engraved in the plastic that read, “DO NOT LEAVE BABY UNATTENDED” with a picture of a baby falling to their doom. This odd picture I found online even has the baby smiling as he falls.
As a rule, I generally don’t take pictures of public restroom fixtures. But this weekend I made an exception. The changing table I saw had a different message. Right above the warning it read, “ALWAYS ATTEND BABY.” Same message, but oh so different.
Our brains are such powerful things (well…except during pregnancy, when mine turns into a bowl of tapioca pudding). The words we speak and the words we think have a huge impact on our behavior and the behavior of the little people we love. When a child needs instructed or corrected, consider using the changing table strategy and tell them what TO do, instead of what NOT to do by using Positive Directive Statements. Parents often make preventative comments like, “Don’t GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!” or “Don’t COME HOME LATE!” and just like the picture of the baby falling off the changing table, plant a vivid image in the child’s mind of the inappropriate behavior. The above statements can easily be changed to “Please stay in your bed” and “Be home by 11.” Many inappropriate behaviors can also be redirected using positive directive statements. “Don’t THROW THE BLOCKS!” can be changed to “Put the blocks in this basket!” and “Don’t POUNCE ON YOUR SISTER!” can be changed to “Be gentle.”
These statements not only increase likelihood of compliance, they also feel good to say. When my kids are outside yelling like banshees, I used to scream something highly ironic at them like, “Stop SCREAMING!” Using the technique of Positive Directive Statements, I now try to stop the behaviors and teach a little by going out and saying, “Be good neighbors.”
Now, don’t worry if you give a negative command from time to time. You don’t always have time to think of saying, “Corn is for eating” when your child is stuffing it up their nose (trust me on this one). But using Positive Directive Statements is a great tool to add to your parenting go-to strategies. It will help instruct, correct, and increase the positive feelings in your home.
Try it today: Pay attention today to the words you use with your children. Do you ever paint images of inappropriate behavior with negative statements? Try thinking of what you want kids TO do, and say it using Positive Directive Statements.
Share your “spin!” What negative statements can you turn around?