12 positive phrases that motivate kids to do the right thing
by Colleen Temple
As parents, we want to be able to guide and shape our children in the most positive ways possible. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eliminate frustration—for both parents and kiddos—simultaneously getting rid of any yelling or negative talk or unhelpful answers due to a lack of patience?
It would be nice! But, we aren’t magicians exactly. However, we do have amazing, intelligent and insightful experts on hand to help guide us all in the ways of positive parenting.
So we turned to them to help us find positive phrases to use with our kids to encourage and inspire them to do their best, to help out and to listen.
Here are 12 ways to increase positive interactions with your children.
1. Steer clear from evaluation.
Instead, focus on process and describe the effort the child’s making. “Wow! You’ve been reading that book for a long time and you didn’t give up when there were words you didn’t know!” is much more motivating than, “What a good reader you are!”
“What a great painting! You’re such a good artist!” rings hollow to a child, who knows she is not a great artist. Instead, notice what the child did, show interest and ask the child to reflect on the painting. “I see lots of blue over here, and lots of green over here. Tell me about this painting!”
2. Be as specific as possible.
About what you see, what you like, what your child did. This shows you really value what you see, and helps the child see the value in what they did. Instead of “Good job!” try “I see you put all the blocks in their bin and all the Legos in their bin. Wow!”
If you’re noticing that the trucks are still on the floor, always start with the positives you notice, before you frame what still needs to be done as a positive: “The only thing left now is to drive the trucks up to their place on the shelf. Want to show me how you do that?”
3. Avoid comparison among siblings or friends.
You may think you’re being positive when you say “Thank goodness you like homework and I don’t have to hound you the way I do your brother!” but you’re setting up a situation where the child is only good enough if his brother doesn’t do homework.
There is never a reason to compare. Just say “I love that you just sit down and do your homework when you get home!”
4. Give your child the credit and the power.
It’s fine to tell your child that you’re proud of him, but be clear that he’s the one who gets credit for the achievement and he’s the one who’s entitled to evaluate it. “You must be so proud of yourself!”
5. Be enthusiastic!
All children need encouragement and warmth. Be sure to tell your child all day long all the things you appreciate.
“I appreciate that you brushed your teeth with only one reminder.”
“I noticed that you helped your sister with her shoes. She was so happy. And it helped us get out of the house faster. Thank you!”
“When you help me like this in the grocery store, it makes the shopping so much easier. I love being a team with you!”
Just make sure your child knows that she is much more than her accomplishments. “I am so lucky to be your parent…I love you no matter what.”
6. Help motivate your kiddos.
Voicing specific appreciations and acknowledgements do more to motivate and encourage my tween boys. When I say, “I believe in you, kiddo!” they look at me like I’m weird (which I am, but still…).
When I say, “I really appreciate it when you put your towel in the hamper, it’s super helpful to me,” then they’re more likely to put the towel in the hamper. (Of course, this isn’t guaranteed. I’m not a wizard!)
7. Empower your children.
When I say, “Can you put the dishes in the dishwasher?” point blank, I hear something like “Right now? Really?” or simply, “Mooom.” But when I say, “Who wants to be my helper for a few minutes?” they both come running.
So I try to frame requests as, “You are a super helpful person and thank you!” rather than come do this chore now.
8. Express how your child’s behavior makes you feel.
When your kiddos are past the toddler stage and can empathize with other people saying things like, “It makes me feel really sad when you don’t listen to what I say” or “It hurts my feelings and makes me think you don’t care about what I’m saying when you interrupt me” can make an impact.
Now, you don’t want to pull a guilt trip on your kid—it’s not about that. These types of phrases help with social-emotional skills too. Over time they begin to learn how their actions affect other people.
9. Explain the bigger picture to them.
Or the reason behind the rule. For example: my son has problems jumping on the furniture and/or not respecting our household items (scratching or banging on the table with utensils, etc.) Barking at him over and over has not helped.
What does help is explaining why we take good care of our property—if we have to replace it, that’s less money for kids items, toys, etc. When they were younger, I would use a similar strategy as above except the table is the one with the feelings—i.e. “You don’t want to give the table an ouchy.”
10. Explain what their behavior is telling you.
This has been helpful with things like throwing toys around. I used to be more negative about it and just tell them to stop throwing toys. That did not help.
So now I say things like, “If you throw your toys, it is telling me that you must not like them anymore.” This has given them more perspective on the issue. The same idea can work for behavior—i.e. “Your whining is telling me that you are tired and we must need to leave the playground.”
11. Help them explain their feelings.
If you notice your toddler resorting to hitting/hurting their sibling or friend out of frustration you can say something like, “That makes you so mad! (Oh, that is so frustrating!) You can be mad. You can hit this!” (Show them where on a pillow or a stuffed animal.)
Giving them words (frustrated, mad) and a place to hit and get their feelings out can release their anger.
If your preschooler/kindergartener is nervous about being away from you at school you can reassure them by saying, “It’s okay if you miss me, I always come back. You have teachers at school who will help you and I will be back at circle time.” (Or I will see you at dinner, whenever the parent will be back.)
Reassurance that it is okay to miss mommy and that she always comes back is key.
If your toddler feels like they “messed up” while creating something (a drawing/painting) and gets frustrated with themselves you could help calm them by saying something like, “Oh! That is frustrating! But everyone makes mistakes! You can try again, or we can do something else now.”
12. Try not to just say “no”—elaborate.
If your child keeps asking the same question and you keep saying “no” but it doesn’t seem to be registering with them you could say something like, “So you really, really want to be on the iPad? I wish you could. I know how badly you want that. But right now we have to have dinner/go to school/etc.”
In other words—addressing the desire and showing empathy (I wish you could…) goes a long way in recognizing the child.
And, remember—transitions can be hard. When you are telling them something you know they don’t want to hear, as in, “You need to stop playing and come to dinner (or leave the playground, or it is bath time, etc.)” Start with, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but we have to leave the park (and give a concrete closure). One more time down the slide then we have to get the stroller and go.”
Again, recognize that they probably don’t want to do your request and give them clear direction.