How Your Words Can Raise Your Children: Does Speaking Positively to Your Child Really Help?
The way you talk to your child — and what you say — may matter more than you think. Here’s why.
Of all the parenting hacks you can find, one rises above the rest in terms of raising well-behaved kids. It’s this assertion: verbal affirmation is to children as sunlight is to plants. Few parental habits can have the same nurturing effect on kids as when they regularly hear encouragement from their parents. Giving children plenty of opportunities is not enough. They have to hear your support.
Teachers know this to be true. They “use positive language at school to help children become more confident and independent,” says a document published by the University of Florida (challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu). Of course, choosing your words, especially at highly emotional moments, may be difficult. However, experts agree: the effort parents take in picking positive words over the negative ones matters greatly. (hellomotherhood.com)
Words shape their world
The vocabulary children regularly hear is what they pick up. This is why it’s vital they hear the language you would like them to grow up with. A household where swear words are spewed daily will raise a child who thinks f-bombs are part of any conversation. Similarly, children whose parents or guardians make it a habit to say “please” and “thank you” will have these magic words ingrained in them into adulthood. These seemingly inconsequential words can build up children who are grateful and not entitled.
Subconsciously, words also tell children what they can and cannot do with their life. Children who are consistently verbally encouraged to explore grow into confident adults who believe in their capabilities. On the other hand, if they’re always told not to do something — “Don’t run too fast,” “Don’t go there,” “Don’t play the piano too loud” — they become convinced of their limitations even if there are none. (The word “no” does have an important role in raising children; it just needs to be put in the right context.)
Using the right words and tone is just half the job done. Engaging your children frequently in conversation also gives them the capacity to bloom and, therefore, behave better. By conversing with your children daily, you show them that other people may think differently than they do. This develops their empathy. (grecs.org)
In fact, one way to help children conduct themselves well is by talking to them about emotions. When you continuously help them name what they are feeling and figure out with them why they are feeling it, this helps children understand their emotions better. It will equip them to handle their emotions and behavior more adequately. So later on, when a situation prompts an emotional outburst, children can rationalize instead of lashing out or breaking down.
Balance it out
There is some danger, however, to overdoing the positive language. Speaking encouragingly to your children is meant to embolden them and give them a better sense of the world. However, when it’s done to the point of “overparenting,” your words can do more harm than good. (nytimes.com)
A social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, performed an experiment that arrived at this conclusion. Some children were asked to solve puzzles. To encourage a few of the children before they started, she told them how smart and resourceful they were. The others, she left to figure out the puzzle by themselves without additional motivation.
It turned out that the kids who received no verbal boost were motivated to keep going even through the more complicated puzzles. They subconsciously relied on their inborn confidence. The ones who were told they were brilliant must have felt the risk of not living up to it with the more difficult puzzles. Therefore, they didn’t perform as well as the others.
The key is balance. Do affirm your children. However, take care that you do not interfere with their innate capacity to do things for themselves. Positive language helps a child only if it supports their sense of self. If it takes them out of reality by projecting an ideal version of themselves, these good words will limit them instead of freeing them to be themselves.
Trust your child
Children exposed to the right amount of positive language grow up well-behaved, empathetic, and confident. However, in our intent to envelop our children with positive experiences, we may be unfairly placing them in a bubble, away from reality.
To balance the positivity with reality, then, trust in your children’s innate capacity to get things done by themselves. Use your good words just as a supporting beam to their development, not as a blueprint they feel they have no choice but to follow.
About The Writer
Cecile is a freelance writer and editor who's been working professionally in the publishing industry for more than two decades.
When she’s not busy raising and homeschooling two kids, she writes (and edits) lifestyle stories, profiles of celebrities and politicians, and travel pieces. She’s served as contributor and editor for a wide range of outlets, including Edamama; SciDev.Net; GetCraft; Manila Bulletin; Panorama; FHM Philippines; Seventeen Magazine; ABS-CBN Foundation’s Green Initiative; and Everything Alternative Australia.
Cecile graduated with a degree in AB Interdisciplinary Studies from Ateneo de Manila University, with tracks in Communication Arts, Languages, and Theater. When she’s not mothering, writing, or homeschooling, Cecile likes to upcycle old furniture and grow vegetables.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and do not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.