A positive parent knows about positive and negative words
When I’m wearing my ‘writer’s hat’ I turn into a complete word-nerd. For my writing blog I recently researched the power of words. Did you know for instance that certain words can physically alter your brain? Yep, sticks and stones may break your bones and words will change your grey matter.
Psychologists found in a study that seeing the word ‘no’ made the brain fire stress hormones. Hostile words make us feel physically anxious whereas positive words relating to respect or kindness have the opposite effect and strengthen our brains. But the thing is, it takes repetition of positive words – three to five times, to get the same level of effect on us as just one negative word.
For every negative expression or thought we use, it takes three positive ones to cancel it out
This resonated with me as I spend a lot of my day saying negative things to my boys:
‘no, don’t do that’
‘don’t hit your brother’
‘stop running about you’ll have an accident’
‘stop licking the letterbox’
Yes, there’s a whole bag of negative craziness going on in our house which means I’m going to have to start saying a LOT of positive things to make up for it.
Research shows that I’m not alone. According to author Kathryn Kvols, the average child hears 432 negative comments or words per day compared to just 32 positive ones. Using negative words might even be reinforcing negative behaviour and is discouraging for them.
The number and type of words spoken in the home has a big impact on kids’ verbal development. Psychologist Andrew Newberg argues that use of positive or negative wording influences development of communication skills. The early childhood years are vital for creating brain connections that foster compassion and love. In a negative environment, the brain makes fewer of these connections. Though it’s not easy to be positive all the time, we should be trying as much as we can to avoid negativity.
Positive thoughts = life-long happiness
Using positive words helps us become more resilient to life’s challenges. Sonja Lyubomirsky – a leading happiness researcher (great title!) suggests for life-long satisfaction we should regularly partake in positive thinking about ourselves and others, share happy events and enjoy every happy moment as much as we can.
I want to raise happy, positive children and have been reading up on positive parenting. Though the research I’ve mentioned makes me feel quite sad at the negative impact I might be having on my kids, there’s a lot to be optimistic about too. I can turn my behaviour around. I’ve discovered some great ways to inject positivity into my day and become a more positive parent.
Here are 3 top positive parent tips:
Don’t ask twice
Using the word ‘don’t’ is literally asking kids to think twice about something – about what you don’t want them to do, as well as the behaviour you do want them to do.
Instead of me saying ‘don’t run around the table so fast’, it would be better phrased: ‘please run more slowly around the table’
This removes the double command and makes it easier for the boys to process. It also reframes the statement to make it less negative.
Reframing and the Danish Girl
Denmark has been voted one of the happiest countries in the world for 40+ years. The book ‘The Danish Way of Parenting’ shares the concept of reframing, something Danes do naturally.
The book tells that asking a Dane about the grey, cold and rainy weather outside will get a typical response ‘there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing’. Danes really seem to know how to make lemonade out of lemons. Hell, they’d probably even turn it into a gin and tonic!
You don’t need to go all Danish Girl to practice this technique. Reframing simply means replacing unhelpful phrases with more positive ones, for example:
Change ‘I’m a rubbish parent, I’m always shouting at my kids‘ to ‘my kids sometimes annoy me but I’m trying to be more positive in the way I talk to them’
It’s about finding a healthier perspective and can be a great way to diffuse tension. When you try to reframe a statement, think about the situation or behaviour in a positive way. Find the good in a situation. Don’t call your child ‘wild’ but ‘energetic’ for example.
Life through a labelled lens
Look for the positive and avoid labels. Labelling a child’s behaviour as naughty or disruptive will lead you to think of your child as such. A child who constantly hears herself referred to as ‘lazy’ or ‘naughty’ will start to behave in ways to reinforce that label. It’s better if we look for the positive in our kids rather than focusing on the negative all the time.
This doesn’t mean ignoring misbehaviour, but taking the time to appreciate the good stuff. As already mentioned, it takes three positive thoughts to cancel out a negative one, so get into the habit of seeing the positive as much as you can.
This works in other ways too. Help your little one to develop positive self-awareness. Tell them regularly the good things they do or the positive behaviour they show.
My youngest, Tiddler, is in the habit of bringing his empty dinner plate to the kitchen for washing-up. I thank him and tell him that was really thoughtful and kind of him to bring his plate in.
Struggling to reframe? Think of it this way:
- Your toddler isn’t wild, he’s energetic
- He’s not loud, he’s enthusiastic
- He’s not demanding, he knows what he wants
A simple change in wording can make such a difference.