Using Positive Statements to Help Toddlers ObeyEmily McClements
A couple of years ago, when my daughter was two, I was realizing, for the first time, just how hard it is to get a strong-willed child to do something that I wanted her to do. As well as how hard it was to get her to NOT do something I didn’t want her to do.
I was lamenting about this to my mom (who I’m sure was smiling and maybe even laughing a little on the inside at the irony, because I was once that strong-willed two year old), and the next week she sent me an article she had clipped out of a magazine that really helped me and changed my thinking about the way I spoke to my toddler.
And now I’m remembering the wisdom I gained from it as I’m dealing with my second strong-willed toddler.
I don’t remember where the article was from, but the main point was that when speaking to young children, it’s really important to use positive statements instead of negative ones, and basically to remove the word “Don’t” from your communication with your child.
For example, instead of saying, “Don’t spill your milk.”
You should say, “Keep your milk in your glass.”
The reasoning goes like this, when you say, “Don’t spill your milk.”, what is the image that pops into your mind? Milk spilling. Right.
So a young child who hears, “Don’t spill your milk.” really only picks up on the “Spill your milk.” part, and then may be more likely to do the exact thing you just told them not to do. Their thinking and reasoning is not advanced enough to understand the negative of “don’t” in front of the statement “Spill your milk.”
Not that they do it on purpose, but if you had the image of milk spilling in your mind, wouldn’t it seem more likely that you would actually spill your milk? So, you want to put the image in their mind of what you actually want them to do.
When I first read this, it was a huge “Aha!” moment for me, because it really made complete sense. Instead of telling my toddler what I don’t want him to do, I need to tell him specifically what I want him to do – a positive statement instead of a negative one.
For another example, if I want my son not to touch something, instead of saying, “Don’t touch the dog.” I need to tell him, “Keep your hands off the dog.” This is a positive directive statement that tells him what he needs to do with his hands, and is much easier for a young child to understand, and therefore, follow the direction.
This can be applied in so many different cases when it comes to helping your toddler do what you want them to do, and not do what you don’t want them to do. If you’re tempted to say don’t, stop, or no, just pause for a second and replace it with a statement of what you actually want your child to do. And you might be thinking, I don’t say don’t all that often. But, I bet as you become more aware of it, you might realize that you say it more than you think.
So, “Don’t stand up.” Becomes, “Stay sitting down.”
“Stop yelling!” Becomes, “Use your quiet voice.”
And you get the idea. Now, I’m not saying this is going to work every time, but it’s at least a good step toward speaking and communicating with your toddler in a way that is easy for them to understand, and to know what you want or expect them to do. Whether or not they actually do it — well that’s an entirely different question, isn’t it?
Do you think using positive statements could work for you and your toddler?