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Simple Words to Avoid Power Struggles

Posted on 12-12-2014

We’ll share the pitfalls of giving “No” and “Don’t” commands and 4 simple communication strategies for positive communication and better results. Making these changes to your communication style will require some effort on your part, but the payoff will be worth it.

I’m Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, and I’m proud to partner with Kids ‘R’ Kids for the Expert Parenting Advice series.

Today, we’re talking about Avoiding Power Struggles.

“Don’t run in the house!” “Don’t chew with your mouth open!” “Don’t talk to me like that!”

Did you know the average child hears 432 negative comments per day versus 32 positive ones? (Source: Katherine Kvols,Redirecting Children’s Behavior)

If there were a hidden camera in your house, how many times per day would you catch yourself saying “No” or “Don’t” to your kids?

Today, we’re talking about how a subtle shift in your communication style can make a big difference in the level of cooperation we get from kids and in how they perceive themselves.

So what’s wrong with “Don’t run in the house!” or “Don’t leave your towel on the floor!”

“NO” or “DON’T” commands create several problems, especially for young kids…

They are confusing! I do an exercise with parents in which I give them a series of “don’t” commands: “don’t sit down, don’t look at me, don’t stand still, don’t look at your neighbor,” and so on. You should see their faces as they try to process the information. They have the “deer-in-the-headlights” look trying to figure out what to do or not do. The same thing happens for kids. “Don’t” commands require a child to “double-process.” He has to think, “Well, what does she NOT want me to do?” and then, “What does she WANT me to DO instead?” “Don’t” commands are very confusing for kids and in turn, deliver poor results.

They reinforce the negative behavior. Instead of hearing what you want the child to do, she is reminded of what she shouldn’t do. For example, if I said, “You can sit here, but don’t touch your brother,” what do you think is forefront in the child’s mind? Touching her brother! Or “Don’t pick your nails!” This creates a mental image of picking her nails. We want to avoid comments that reinforce the negative behavior. And last but not least…

NO and DON’T commands are discouraging. If 93% of the feedback you received during the day was negative, you would feel discouraged. That’s how our kids feel. When they constantly hear “no” and “don’t,” it creates a perception that they are “bad.” Of course, we want kids to have a positive, empowered perception of themselves, but our communication doesn’t always reflect that intention.

So what can we do instead?

I’m not suggesting we’ll eradicate ALL of the “Don’t” or “No” commands from our communication, but we’ll get better results if we can shift the percentages. Let’s talk about a few strategies we can use to teach kids what we want them to do and be more encouraging in the process. All of these strategies require you to think ahead a bit – but with a little practice, they’ll soon become second nature.

1. Practice using “DO” commands. You want to calmly state what you want your child to DO. Rather than “Don’t run in the house,” try, “Please use your walking feet in the house.” Rather than “Don’t chew with your mouth open,” try, “Please try to make your lips touch each other when you’re chewing.”

2. Find opportunities to say YES! It’s quick and easy to give a “NO” response, but try to rephrase your comments to imply "YES." Rather than "No, we don't have time to go to the park today,” try "The park sounds awesome! Would you rather go Wednesday evening or Saturday morning?" Instead of "Don't color on the walls," try (in a calm voice) "You can color on this paper or with sidewalk chalk outside." Rather than "We're not going anywhere until that room is clean!" try "YES, when your room is clean, then we'll leave for the mall. Sounds like fun!" (She still has to clean her room, but it's more encouraging hearing a YES response rather than a NO.)

3. Thank them in advance. This strategy requires a small leap of faith on your part, but you can thank your child in advance for working on a particular behavior. For example, instead of saying “Please stop getting in and out of your chair,” you can rephrase that and say “Thank you for working hard to keep your bottom on the chair during dinner.” Instead of “Don’t leave your dishes on the counter!” try “Thank you for taking the time to put your dishes in the dishwasher tonight.” Again, it reinforces what we want them to do and assumes they’ll make the appropriate choice. It’s much more encouraging.

4. Role-play what you want them to do. Young kids love to pretend, and role-play is a great way to teach them how to behave in appropriate ways. If you are tired of seeing your kids chew like farm animals and grab food from each other at the table, role-play appropriate table manners. Invite your kids and their favorite stuffed animal to a party, and practice chewing with lips touching each other and graciously asking each other to pass the potatoes. It will be more fun for all of you, and your kids will be more likely to repeat those behaviors that night at the dinner table.

Making these changes to your communication style will require some effort on your part, but the payoff will be worth it. Your kids will feel more encouraged, they’ll develop a positive, empowered perception of themselves and you’ll enjoy better cooperation from them.

Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.

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