A major part of discipline is learning how to talk with children. The way you
talk to your child teaches him how to talk to others. Here are some talking
tips we have learned with our children:

1. Connect Before You Direct

Before giving your child directions,
squat to your child’s eye level and engage your child in eye-to-eye contact to
get his attention. Teach him how to focus: “Mary, I need your eyes.” “Billy, I
need your ears.” Offer the same body language when listening to the child. Be
sure not to make your eye contact so intense that your child perceives it as
controlling rather than connecting.

2. Address The Child

Open your request with the child’s name,
“Lauren, will you please…”

3. Stay Brief

We use the one-sentence rule: Put the main directive
in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your child is
to become parent-deaf. Too much talking is a very common mistake when dialoging
about an issue. It gives the child the feeling that you’re not quite sure what
it is you want to say. If she can keep you talking she can get you sidetracked.

4. Stay Simple

Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen
to how kids communicate with each other and take note. When your child shows
that glazed, disinterested look, you are no longer being understood.

5. Ask Your Child to Repeat the Request Back to You

If he can’t,
it’s too long or too complicated.

6. Make an offer the child can’t refuse

You can reason with a two
or three-year-old, especially to avoid power struggles. “Get dressed so you can
go outside and play.” Offer a reason for your request that is to the child’s
advantage, and one that is difficult to refuse. This gives her a reason to move
out of her power position and do what you want her to do.

7. Be Positive

Instead of “no running,” try: “Inside we walk,
outside you may run.”

8. Begin your Directives With “I want.”

Instead of “Get down,” say
“I want you to get down.” Instead of “Let Becky have a turn,” say “I want you
to let Becky have a turn now.” This works well with children who want to please
but don’t like being ordered. By saying “I want,” you give a reason for
compliance rather than just an order.

9. “When…Then.”

“When you get your teeth brushed, then we’ll begin
the story.” “When your work is finished, then you can watch TV.” “When,” which
implies that you expect obedience, works better than “if,” which suggests that
the child has a choice when you don’t mean to give him one.

10. Legs First, Mouth Second

Instead of hollering, “Turn off the
TV, it’s time for dinner!” walk into the room where your child is watching TV,
join in with your child’s interests for a few minutes, and then, during a
commercial break, have your child turn off the TV. Going to your child conveys
you’re serious about your request; otherwise children interpret this as a mere

11. Give Choices

“Do you want to put your pajamas on or brush your
teeth first?” “Red shirt or blue one?”

12. Speak Developmentally Correctly

The younger the child, the
shorter and simpler your directives should be. Consider your child’s level of
understanding. For example, a common error parents make is asking a three-year-
old, “Why did you do that?” Most adults can’t always answer that question about
their behavior. Try instead, “Let’s talk about what you did.”

13. Speak Socially Correctly

Even a two-year-old can learn
“please.” Expect your child to be polite. Children shouldn’t feel manners are
optional. Speak to your children the way you want them to speak to you.

14. Speak Psychologically Correctly

Threats and judgmental openers
are likely to put the child on the defensive. “You” messages make a child clam
up. “I” messages are non-accusing. Instead of “You’d better do this…” or “You
must…,” try “I would like….” or “I am so pleased when you…” Instead of
“You need to clear the table,” say “I need you to clear the table.” Don’t ask a
leading question when a negative answer is not an option. “Will you please pick
up your coat?” Just say, “Pick up your coat, please.”

15. Write It

Reminders can evolve into nagging so easily,
especially for preteens who feel being told things puts them in the slave
category. Without saying a word you can communicate anything you need said.
Talk with a pad and pencil. Leave humorous notes for your child. Then sit back
and watch it happen.

16. Talk The Child Down

The louder your child yells, the softer you
respond. Let your child ventilate while you interject timely comments: “I
understand” or “Can I help?” Sometimes just having a caring listener available
will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you have two tantrums
to deal with. Be the adult for him.

17. Settle The Listener

Before giving your directive, restore
emotional equilibrium, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in
when a child is an emotional wreck.

18. Replay Your Message

Toddlers need to be told a thousand times.
Children under two have difficulty internalizing your directives. Most three-
year-olds begin to internalize directives so that what you ask begins to sink
in. Do less and less repeating as your child gets older. Preteens regard
repetition as nagging.

19. Let Your Child Complete The Thought

Instead of “Don’t leave
your mess piled up,” try: “Matthew, think of where you want to store your soccer
stuff.” Letting the child fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting

20. Use Rhyme Rules

“If you hit, you must sit.” Get your child to
repeat them.

21. Give Likable Alternatives

You can’t go by yourself to the park;
but you can play in the neighbor’s yard.

22. Give Advance Notice

“We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the
toys, bye-bye to the girls…”

23. Open Up a Closed Child

Carefully chosen phrases open up closed
little minds and mouths. Stick to topics that you know your child gets excited
about. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no. Stick to specifics.
Instead of “Did you have a good day at school today?” try “What is the most fun
thing you did today?”

24. Use “When You…I Feel…Because…”

When you run away from mommy in
the store I feel worried because you might get lost.

25. Close The Discussion

If a matter is really closed to discussion, say
so. “I’m not changing my mind about this. Sorry.” You’ll save wear and tear
on both you and your child. Reserve your “I mean business” tone of voice for
when you do.

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