Often it’s all too easy to fall into a rut of “don’t do that”, “stop touching those”, “how many times have I asked you to stop doing that?”. The annoying thing is, you utter those phrases a million times a day, but often they aren’t that effective. Children respond much better to positive reinforcement and it can make life much easier for the parent too. Nobody is perfect and parenting can be very frustrating but keeping your language specific and positive can help in a difficult situation.
Rather than telling a child to stop touching something, it’s often more productive to lead the child away and distract them with something that they ARE allowed to play with. For example, you may not want your child fiddling with the gas knobs on your hob and this is a completely reasonable and understandable request. However, to avoid a tantrum, it might be easier to distract the child with a saucepan and a wooden spoon or a basin of soapy water. Remember to praise the child for doing a good job with washing up.
This is one of the most uttered phrases by a parent and is also one of the most useless! What does a child really learn from “be careful!”? It is much more useful to tailor your phrases to your child’s situation, for example: if a child is high on a climbing frame, it’s more useful and positive to say “you’ve done so well to climb so high but I’m worried you’re not watching where you put your feet. I don’t want you to fall” This shows the child that you are proud of their achievement but you’re also specifically listing your concerns.
The same applies with crossing a road for an older child. Rather than “be careful”, saying “I need you to look both ways and check for traffic before you cross the road”. This reminds the child of the specific actions they need to take.
If you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again to a child, it might be helpful to take a second and work out if you are being clear enough. If you are saying “how many times do I have to tell you to be careful?”, then you might need to reassess your instruction to be more positive and to be more specific. See Point 2!
Often toddlers can’t answer such an open question and so you end up frustrated that they can’t answer. It’s helpful to try and get them to understand and name their feelings e.g. “are you feeling angry? I understand it’s making you cross. Shall we go and do something else instead?”
Also question them when they are happy. If they are laughing, you can say “is that funny? I love it when you laugh”.
When a child or toddler starts every sentence with “Mummy” or “Daddy”, it can feel quite frustrating and it’s very natural to get cross and tell them to stop saying it. In reality, your child is trying to get your attention, whether it’s because they need something specific or they just want to spend time with you. If you are doing a task that can wait, take some time out with your child and remind them that you enjoy spending time with them. It may be that you take five minutes to draw a picture or create a play doh masterpiece, but it will mean a lot to your child that you took the time to play. When you do get back to what you were doing, you might get longer than 20 seconds before the “Mummy!”s start again.
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