Wellness Corner - Your words matter | Aga Khan Academies

Wellness Corner - Your words matter

06 January 2021

Your Words Matter 

Have you ever noticed how subtle differences in the way someone says something to you can provoke vast differences in your reactions? Or, how there are some people that you would do almost anything for and others that you feel outright defiant towards? Perhaps it’s your child who’s acting defiant towards you right now. If you find yourself inexplicably unable to ‘get through’ to your child and to manifest the positive behaviours we all so desperately seek, paying greater attention to your language might just be the key. Consider the below:

“Stop shouting”, “don’t interrupt me”, “no hitting”, “don’t talk to me like that”!

Is there anything you notice about these commands? Do they sound familiar?

Stop. Don’t. No.

How odd that we instinctively resort to negative language when trying to enforce positive behaviour. According to research, negative language is much harder for children to understand, as it requires what’s called ‘doubling processing’. When you tell a child “stop annoying your brother”, for example, they need to process what you’ve told them not to do and infer what they should do instead. This second level of inferential processing can be especially confusing for young children. Rather than continually drawing attention to what you don’t want your child to do, try reinforcing positive behaviours by making it clear what you do want them to do.

Stop shouting >> Quiet voice, please

Don’t interrupt me >> Please wait until I’ve finished speaking

No hitting >> Gentle hands, please

Don’t talk to me like that >> Please use kind words

Stop pinching your sister >> Let’s keep our hands to ourselves

Don’t take his toys >> Shall we find something else to play with until he’s finished?

No playing football in the house >> You can take the ball outside if you like

The positive language on the right, said in a kind and firm tone, helps encourage the behaviours and attitudes that we want to see in our children, such as patience and kindness. Positive language also shows our children that we believe in their capacity to behave, unlike the statements on the left, which do a better job of communicating our exhaustion with their misbehaviour and potentially our own inability to manage our frustration!

Paying attention to the language we use when talking to our children is a foundational aspect of Positive Discipline, an approach founded by Dr Jane Nelsen based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. I’ll be hosting Masterclasses on Positive Parenting approaches later this term and hope to see some of you there! Invite coming your way shortly.