Change Your Words.

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I came across the following tip in a newsletter that I subscribe to. The newsletter is written by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller and you can find a copy of it here.

Teacher Talk Tip

Change your words and you change your thoughts and perceptions. Change your thoughts and perceptions and you change your beliefs. Change your beliefs and you change your behaviors. Change your behaviors and you change the reaction you invite.

Possible words to change

Mistake….Learning opportunity

Detention….Responsibility room

Problem solving….Solution seeking

Field Trip….Adventure in learning

Study….Growing your mind

Rules….Healthy limits


This is taken from Teacher Talk: What It Really Means by Chick Moorman and although it is aimed at teachers, as a parent there is a lot that I can take from this approach.

The words on the right hand side do more accurately describe quite often what I am trying to communicate to my children. For example I do use the word consequences a bit and it does have a much greater intonation of “punishment”, when really I just need them to know that what happens next will be a direct OUTCOME of their behaviour. Even in my own mind these words bring up different images, so I am sure they would for my children.

The book itself also makes great suggestions on how to communicate openly and honestly with children. He looks at traditional techniques for managing children’s behaviour like highlighting children who are behaving well and explains:

“I like the way Linda is sitting” is not honest, direct communication. In fact the message is not even intended for Linda. It is intended for everyone else. Linda is being used to manipulate other students into behaving in a similar way. When you do this, you model indirect communication and manipulation.

I needed to refresh myself on how important my choice of words are when I am communicating with my kids. Sometimes I fall into the trap of blurting out what I am feeling instantly. Just like I would if I were talking to an adult, I think I need to pause for a few moments (and allow the intensity of the situation to dilute slightly!), gather my thoughts then speak.

I need to model this style of communication, because this I would like to show my children how to:

“speak in ways that encourage problem-solving rather than blame and punishment.”

Is this something you try to encourage in your kids? If so, how do you go about it and do the kids take it on board?


  1. says

    I often say to the kids (in probably NOT the best way!) “don’t just bring me the problem, try and think of a solution”, which is what some of my managers used to say at work, many years ago. Hmmm, might have to work on my delivery, though it does seem to work and they often think of ways to solve problems!

    Lazy Cow’s last blog post..You know, the laundry really can wait…

  2. says

    To digress I saw a similar thing on children’s personality traits two columns one describing them as a weakness – then turning it into something positive.
    I wish I could remember where I read it.

    Babyamore (Trish)’s last blog post..A favour for Tiff

  3. says

    Lazy Cow – We have found the bring a solution model works well too. And I agree that it is always so much better if they can solve the problem themselves.

    Trish – if you do remember where you read it, I would be interested as I really believe how we “label” has a huge impact on we deal with them.

  4. says

    This is somewhat related, but one thing I am very conscious of is to NOT negate to my son. Granted, he’s only 7 months old, but I know it will come in handy later.

    I’ve read and heard from multiple sources that negatives do not work for children. If he is holding a cup that is about to tip over, saying, “Don’t knock that over!” will, in fact, make him knock it over. Saying, “Hold on to your cup!” or simply, “Be careful!” is a much more direct, positive, way to interact with your child.

    It’s a hard habit to break, and I find myself saying “no” to my 7 month old a lot, but I’m trying not to in hopes that when he is old enough to have more understanding I’ll be better at communicating with his young mind!

    Allison’s last blog post..Happy 7-Month Birthday, Alex!

  5. says

    This is really spot on – on so many levels.

    Since I first started studying child development the emphasis has always been on turning our words around to positives rather than negatives. Allison is right – the way young children learn language comprehension they don’t pick up the negatives until later. So saying ‘don’t run inside’ what they hear and comprehend is ‘run inside’ which is confusing for everyone. Much better to say what you want a child to do rather than what you don’t want a child to do for so many reasons… ‘walk inside’… it can feel silly when you first start it but one you get used to it it becomes a habit and is easy.

    Have you ever read any Alfie Kohn? That point about manipulation is something that Alfie takes even further in his philosophy on ‘the risks of rewards’ and other behaviour management ideals. Really interesting stuff.

    kate’s last blog post..Not Only But Also…

  6. says

    Allison – such a great idea to start when your little one is young. Establishing the right communication strategies is all about practice.

    Something else that I have learnt along the way is to use the phrase “I need” as a starting point for my request. For example: “I need 5 minutes of quiet while I make this important phone call.” will work better than “You must not make noise while I am on the phone.”

    Kate – I haven’t read anything by Alfie Kohn yet. I am waiting for the Homework Myth to come in at the local library. Is the one you are referring to called Punished by Rewards? If so I might buy it as I have a strong aversion to rewards and would love to hear about other approaches.

    Thanks to everyone for your contributions. It is always so heartening to hear other mums/dads thoughtful approach to parenting and what resources they have found useful.

  7. says

    hmmm………. I can the sense of it, but some of those words don’t have negative conotations for me so I don’t see the need to use alternatives. I sometimes worry too that in our efforts to encourage our children that we promote a failsafe environment that will leave them unable to deal with failure later on as adults. I think it’s more good attitudes to situations/circumstances that are the most important thing to teach.

    Bettina’s last blog post..I’m so stupid

  8. says

    Bettina – I can understand this point. Raising children is a very personal thing and this type of communication is very important to me. For me focusing on the issue not the child, positive not the negative and looking for a solution not to blame are integral parts of building children who are going to be able to deal with failure/rejection/tragedy by using their problem solving skills and postive attitude.

    It is so true that it is necesary for children to experience disappointment and failure through out their life, as this is the way of things and developing resilience only comes from real life experience.