I have worked with children with special needs as a mom, and a professional for over 16 years, and one of the things that I have found to really help children with special needs and all people to make good choices is using Positive Language. Most people don’t really understand what positive language is. It does not mean using praise, or being optimistic, or having a happy tone of voice – although those things might help as well. Positive language literally means that you tell the child what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. This is simple in theory but takes time and commitment to put it into practice.
I used to teach classes on this when I owned a home for children with disabilities, and I have applied this as a mom. In the class I would tell my staff to close their eyes and imagine not yelling, not hitting someone, and not smoking. Go ahead and try it. What does that look like? For most people, and especially small children and people with special needs, it is impossible to visualize NOT doing something. For most of us, not yelling brings up a visual of someone yelling, not hitting someone brings up a mental picture of someone about to hit someone, and not smoking involves a cigarette.
That’s how our minds are naturally wired. So when we tell our kids to stop yelling they really may not know what we want them to do. That makes it very hard for them to mind and causes frustration for everyone. When we say what we want them to do, we have much better success. “Use your inside voice”, or “Please talk quietly” are things that can easily be visualized and understood and therefore they are easier to do.
This communication technique is very powerful and can make a big difference in how our children react. It does take thought from the parents though. Sometimes we don’t know what we want them to do. But if we don’t know, chances are that they don’t either.
Here are some examples of Positive Language to get you started:
- Instead of “Don’t run in the house” try “Remember to walk not run when you are in the house.”
- Instead of “Don’t hit your sister” try “Keep your hands to yourself.”
- Instead of “Don’t talk with your mouth full” try “Chew and swallow all of your food before you speak.”
- Instead of “Don’t throw that truck” try “Put the truck down on the floor softly.”
These are just a couple of examples but I hope they give you a good idea of how to use positive language with your children. Remember I used to teach professionals full classes on this so it’s ok if it takes you time to get the hang of it and make it a habit. I still hear myself occasionally saying things like, “Stop yelling!” This effective communication technique is also useful for communicating with spouses, and even people in the supermarket.
Positive Language is also very useful in our own self talk. Positive self talk helps us to focus on what we want to do instead of what we want to stop doing. If we are telling ourselves not to eat that cupcake, all we see and think about is that darn cupcake. Success will be very hard. But if we tell ourselves to find a healthy snack, we can do that without even thinking about that silly cupcake. The cupcake loses some of it’s power. I find for myself it’s a lot easier to use positive communication with other people than it is with myself, but I am much more successful when I have goals that are positive in language.