Most parents can relate to the morning battle over what to wear to school. Even though your child’s closet is filled with plenty of clothes appropriate for any weather or occasion, you cringe when she shows up at breakfast with a purple plaid skirt, a Mickey Mouse tank top that looks like it’s been worn for days, and green flip-flops.
Or maybe you selected an outfit the night before, but come morning, you’re still convincing her to actually wear it.
Thankfully, parents can avoid many of the power struggles related to clothing by following these four simple strategies (and by signing up for our free online webinar, available at your leisure!).
1. Create Outfits
For younger children, put “outfits” together on one hanger by gathering matching pants, shirts, and socks, and clipping them together. This gives her the power to choose a completed outfit, and it gives you peace of mind that it won’t be a fashion disaster.
It’s also best to hang the rod at a kid-friendly height, so she can feel capable and independent by reaching it herself.
2. Respect Sensory Complaints
Be aware that some kids are more sensitive to itchy tags, bulky seams, and uncomfortable fabrics. If your son has a fit when you suggest he wear a certain type of shirt (because the tag itches or the fabric feels “icky” on his skin), respect that and remove those clothing choices from the mix.
3. Control the Environment
You can’t “control” children (at least not without a battle!) but you can control the environment. If flip-flops in February are out of the question, don’t battle about them, simply remove them from the closet. If they are no longer among the available alternatives for school clothes, they are no longer a point of contention.
If certain clothes are inappropriate for school, separate their drawers or create sections in the closet for school clothes versus fun clothes. Give your kids the power to choose anything they want to wear as long as it comes from the school drawer.
4. Let it Go
The very best strategy to avoid power struggles and foster independence is to “let it go,” and allow your child to make her own clothing choices.
You can provide some training about “matching colors” if you’d like, but remember that fashion and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. It’s much more important that she feel independent and powerful by having some control over her day.
Kids perceive that parents call the shots and make most of the decisions. Giving her the option to select her own clothes gives her a big “hit” of positive power and goes a long way in fostering self-sufficiency, avoiding negative power struggles, and limiting morning dawdling!
If her choice does result in a fashion disaster, don’t worry about what others think. Most teachers love to see kids arrive for school in mismatched clothing. They know it means mom and dad recognize their child’s need for independence and positive power.
Our 7-Step Parenting Success System®course offers far more strategies for morning dawdling, bedtime battles, chore wars, and more. For a preview, join us for our free online class: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Discover why parents say it’s the best hour they’ve devoted to improving their parenting!
You’re 4-years-old, walking to the park with your mom and dad. The sun is shining, there’s a soft breeze in the air, and the twirly slide is calling your name. You can’t wait to get there.
Just as you step onto the sidewalk, your mom shouts, “Don’t go in the street!”
You hadn’t planned on walking in the street. At least not until this very moment. You stare at the smooth black pavement glistening in the sunlight. It’s just begging for you to run across it!
Why, oh, why did your mom even mention the street? Had she said, “Please walk with us on the sidewalk,” you probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.
Now, it’s all your little mind can think about.
As parents, we can give commands to our children positively or negatively. Both, essentially, are asking the same thing, but the delivery–and the impression it leaves– can be exponentially different.
And in a world where the average child hears 432 negative comments or words per day versus 32 positive ones (Source: K. Kvols, Redirecting Children’s Behavior), it’s safe to say which style we typically rely on.
Don’t be late! Stop talking with your mouth full! Don’t touch your sister! No more fighting!
I’m sure a few of these sound familiar. But you see, when most of the language we use with our kids is negative (don’t, stop, no more, etc.) we create problems for both them and us.
Negative language is confusing, demeaning, and comes off as harsh. Kids don’t want to feel talked down to any more than adults do.
Not to mention, it invites All. The. Power. Struggles.
Fortunately, the fix is as simple as swapping out those negative phrases for more positive ones. Trust me; this will do wonders for your child’s misbehavior!
Why? Because positive language empowers kids! It tells them that they can make good choices, and we value what they have to say. It’s a massive boost to their self-esteem.
Here’s the not-so-fortunate part. It may be simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Making these changes isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if you’ve been using negative commands for years–it’s just second nature at this point!
But with a bit of time, practice, and intentional effort, I’m confident you’ll get there.
To get you started, here are 3 tips to avoid power struggles by using positive language.
Tip #1: Practice Using “Do” Commands
Don’t run in the street! Don’t talk with food in your mouth! Don’t forget to brush your teeth!
Do any of these sound familiar?
To put an end to the power struggles, try to rephrase these statements using “Do” commands….
Please walk on the sidewalk. Keep your lips together when chewing food, please. When your teeth are brushed, we’ll be ready for storytime!
Why “Do” Commands Lead to More Cooperation
As parents, we probably say the word “don’t” more times than we can count in one day. And with good reason! We wantto keep our children safe, healthy, and happy. Naturally, we have to tell them what they shouldn’t do.
The problem isn’t so much what we’re asking but rather how we’re asking it. You see, when we use “don’t” commands, our kids automatically have to “double-process” what we’re telling them.
They think, What does Mom NOT want me to do? AND, What does she want me to DO instead?
Not only is this discouraging, but it’s also incredibly confusing–especially for young children. “Don’t” reinforces the negative behavior and brings it to their full attention (remember the street scenario above?).
You say, “Don’t run in the street!” and they think, “Gee, running in the street sounds really fun right about now.”
You say, “Don’t play on your iPad,” and they think, “iPad, iPad, iPad! I REALLY want my iPad!”
Instead, try switching up your phrasing by stating what you do want instead of what you don’t. (Bonus points if you ask politely.)
For example, if you want to say “DO walk on the sidewalk,” try, “Please walk on the sidewalk. It’s so nice knowing we are being safe.”
Or, if you’re going for “DO stay away from the iPad,” try, “Let’s play outside while the weather is nice and save your screen time for when we’re in the car later.”
Doesn’t that sound much better?
Right off the bat, this eliminates the need to “double-process” the command. Your child knows exactly what you’re asking and feels especially significant because you asked in such a polite and respectful way.
It also does away with any looming frustration that tends to go hand-in-hand with negative comments. You’ll take their thinking from, Why can’t I? to Yes, I can!
And with that boost of empowerment in your daily lives, you’ll be sure to see less misbehavior.
Tip #2: Find Opportunities to Say “Yes!”
One of the best ways to reduce power struggles is to shift our “no’s” into something that — to a child — feels more like a “yes.”
For example, just imagine…
It’s Saturday afternoon, and you and your 10-year-old son are perusing the aisles of your local pet store. All you need is a bag of dog food, but you’re making it an outing because you both enjoy peeking in on the new puppies and kittens.
You’re deeply enthralled with an adorable little furball when, all of a sudden, you hear your son call to you from across the store.
“Mom, come check out this baby alligator! Can we buy him?”
Ummm, say what now?
Sure, there are many amazing parents out there that would love to bring a pet alligator home. But you are NOT one of them. Of course, now you feel backed into a corner. Up until now, you’ve been a positive language rockstar! But that ends today.
You have to say no.
And you know what? That’s fine!
Parents can’t (and shouldn’t) give their children every single thing they ask for. If they did, I’m pretty sure the world would be run by entitled kids fueled solely on dino nuggets and candy.
So let’s set the record straight right now. “No” isn’t the problem. How we present the “no” can be.
Let’s say your immediate reaction is:
“No. We are absolutely NOT getting a pet alligator today, tomorrow, or ever!”
Can you see how something so negatively charged may be discouraging to your 10-year-old? He was only asking a question, but your answer leaves him frustrated, disheartened, and ready to push back.
So what can you do when the answer is “no,” but you want to maintain that positive language?
Try shifting that power struggle paradigm by finding a way to turn that “no” answer into something that more resembles a “yes.”
You could try:
“We can’t buy an alligator to take home, but let’s pick a day when we can come back and visit it in the store. Would you rather come back Sunday afternoon or Monday evening?”
This way, you aren’t driving home with a reptilian creature in the backseat, but you also don’t have to say no.
It’s a win-win.
While this may seem tricky at first, I’m willing to bet that you’re actually much better at disguising no’s for yes’s than you think.
Maybe it’s your toddler, asking for the hundredth time if she can wear her purple polka dot snowsuit to the swimming pool because it’s her “favorite color in the whole wide world!”
“You can absolutely wear your snowsuit inside the house with the A/C on high! But let’s stick to wearing your purple swimsuit at the pool. Snowsuits are hard to splash in.”
Or perhaps your fresh-from-the-DMV teen really wants to learn how to drive in your classic (and newly restored) ’65 Mustang.
“Buddy, you’d look so awesome driving that car, but it can be really hard to learn the rules of the road in a manual transmission. Why don’t we start in an automatic until you’re more confident behind the wheel?”
See? Even when the answer is “no” you can always squeeze a refreshingly positive “yes” in there somewhere.
Try a Yes Day!
Another way to find more opportunities to say “yes” throughout the day is quite simple. Just say “yes!”
A popular trend in recent years has been for families to institute a “Yes Day” with their kiddos. Typically, this is one full day when parents say yes to any request (with ground rules and within reason) their kids ask.
Breakfast for dinner? Yes!
Mini golf followed by a movie? Absolutely!
Wear pajamas to the candy store? Um, if you say so!
Saying “yes” to their requests tells them that you’re interested in what they have to say and what they want to do. They’re an essential part of the family, and you recognize all of their contributions.
You may be thinking, Okay, Amy, what’s with you? This is getting a little weird.
Trust me. I get it.
But, believe it or not, lots of research shows that smiling when we speak has a significantly positive impact on both us and those we’re talking to! It may seem a bit out there, but I promise you’ll soon see just how helpful it can be when trying to switch from negative to positive language.
Because the truth is, it’s reallyhard to say anything negative when you’ve got a smile on your face.
Let’s give it a try…
With your brightest smile, repeat after me: “Don’t ride your bike without a helmet on. It’s really dangerous, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I’m willing to bet that felt pretty awkward (and possibly looked a little terrifying). Why? Because the emotion on your face didn’t match what you were saying.
Now, let’s try it again. Only this time, let’s also rephrase the sentence using what we learned in the first two tips.
Again, be sure to show off those pearly whites: “Please wear your helmet when you’re on your bike. I love knowing that you’re being safe.”
Ahhh, I bet that felt much better! And the funny thing is, you were still getting the same point across…just in a more positive way.
As the saying goes, old habits die hard! And, unfortunately, for most parents, using negative language is a very old habit.
Right now, it may seem an impossible feat. You ask, repeat, remind, and yell, only to feel nothing but guilt a few moments later. “No,” “don’t,” and “can’t” are a few of your most-used vocabulary words, yet the power struggles remain.
But that’s the very reason why Positive Parenting Solutions came about in the first place! I wanted to meet parents right where they are–in the hardest of places–and give them hope for a brighter, more positive way to parent.
Yes, you can empower your children with positive language! You can reduce the amount of misbehavior you see every day. And you absolutely can be the positive parent you’ve always dreamed of becoming.
When I first started working with 12 year-old Sarah*, she was the picture of anxiety. Sticking close to her mom, her hair covering her face, she sat in the waiting room as I came out to say hello. She muttered a “hi”, and we walked back to my office.
We talked for a few minutes about movies, then–knowing her parents had brought her to my office because of her anxiety about grades–I asked her about school.
Sarah burst into tears as she described just how anxious she felt.
“I feel like I have to be perfect; I have to make straight A’s”, she told me. “I don’t know when to stop, I study all the time. It takes me so much longer to finish my homework than my friends. And if I get a B or worse, I freak out.”
Toward the end of our meeting, I asked Sarah’s mom to come into my office. Her mom was calm and relaxed, the exact opposite of Sarah.
She smiled easily and sat comfortably on the couch. She seemed genuinely puzzled by Sarah’s worries about school and anxiety about her grades.
“We don’t know where she gets it”, Sarah’s mom explained. “We never put any pressure on her to get good grades. All that we ask is that she do her best.”
As a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, I’ve witnessed this scene play out many times over the past 13 years.
At first, when I met with patients like Sarah, I expected that their parents would be hard-driving, achievement-oriented moms and dads who demanded perfection and straight A’s.
The first few times parents like Sarah’s mom breezed into my office more relaxed and low-key than most, I thought it was a fluke.
Over time, however, a predictable pattern emerged. These relaxed parents, it seemed, often shared the same approach when parenting their children: all we ask is that you just do your best.
As this pattern appeared, I started to wonder: Could the innocent-sounding, low-key, “just do your best” approach actually make a child feel more anxious?
As I considered this paradox, it occurred to me that there were three key reasons why telling someone to do their best could actually increase anxiety.
3 Reasons Why “Do Your Best” Increases a Child’s Anxiety
It Creates Uncertainty
One problem with the well-intentioned “do your best” is that it’s simply too vague. How do we know when we’ve done our best? There’s no way to measure that goal or track our progress, so we are left in a state of uncertainty.
Uncertainty Creates Anxiety
Uncertainty is a common cause of anxiety. Often, the more unsure we are about something, the more anxious we feel about it.
It Can Cause Us to Personalize Negative Events
When negative events occur, it’s natural to try to explain why. If we’re instructed to just do our best on a task, and we don’t do well, we are likely to blame ourselves and conclude that we are inadequate or incompetent in some way. This creates a sense of defeat and hopelessness, which could lead to less effort and resilience in the future.
So if “do your best” might not actually help our children do their best, what can we do instead? The next time your child feels anxious about school, try these three alternatives to “Do Your Best.”
3 Ways to Help Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety about School
Instead of the vague “do your best,” help your child set clear, concrete goals to lessen anxiety and develop good work habits.
For example, you might suggest that your child take three mock spelling tests before her weekly spelling quiz. Or you could encourage her to practice multiplication flash cards until she can do them with 100% accuracy.
Being specific on the steps required to do well allows our children to shift their focus away from the outcome and focus on the process instead.
Focus on Mastery
Paradoxically, you can lessen your child’s anxiety and improve school performance by encouraging focus on mastery of specific aspects of the material.
For example, if your child struggles in math, it may take a few minutes of practice to master the multiplication tables for the week. If he needs additional support, break it down into even smaller chunks so “mastery” comes with even less effort and pressure.
Once he’s achieved this goal–or at least made progress toward the goal–consider it mission accomplished and provide lots of encouragement on the effort he put forth to accomplish that goal.
If your child receives a low grade, instead of asking “Did you do your best?” ask “What do you need to do better next time?”
Consider it a learning experience and review the material with your child.
What does your child need to brush up on? Evaluate study habits as well. Did she practice regularly? Was all the homework complete? Look beyond just the grades themselves and evaluate your child’s work habits. Do they need to improve?
Remember, all the effort in the world won’t overcome bad habits. By the same token, a few small shifts in work habits can make effort much more efficient.
The next time your child is struggling with anxiety about school, instead of offering a “just do your best” consider using the steps above to reduce anxiety, build self-confidence, and develop invaluable skills for the future. Your child will build concrete tools to ensure life-long success and feel less anxious in the process.
One of the most important things families can do to ward off anxious feelings is to maintain a calm, consistent, and compassionate home.
But trust me, if you’re like the thousands of parents I’ve worked with, it’s incredibly difficult to create this type of environment when you’re inundated with sibling rivalry battles and other frustrating behaviors.
In one hour, I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen without nagging, yelling, or losing control.
Will you join me?!
*Sarah is a fictional patient created to represent a composite of many children with similar problems.
About the Author
Dr. Kevin L. Gyoerkoe is a licensed psychologist specializing in anxiety and OCD-related disorders at the The Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center in Charlotte, NC. To learn more about helping your child overcome anxiety, visit www.anxietyandocdtreatmentcenter.com.
The book demonstrates that common feeding mistakes aren’t a result of flawed parenting, but missing feeding knowledge. Once parents have a bigger picture of what is going on with feeding, it is pretty easy (even empowering!) to turn things around.
Ahh, summer vacation. What could be better than the all-American, old-fashioned family road trip with kids?
Not much…until the whining starts.
Before you reach for the earplugs, try one of these fun solutions — suggested by the creative parents in our members-only Facebook Group — to keep your kids happy and you sane.
Road Trip Games
Games are a great way to include the whole family while painlessly passing the road trip with kids. Here are just a few of our favorite suggestions:
Name that Tune
Spot the State License Plate
Or, better yet, turn the tables around and put parents in the hot seat while teaching youngsters a bit about the country — have kids look at an atlas and quiz mommy and daddy on states and capitals.
Or if you’re crawling through a busy town, try Red light/Green light. To play, divide your car into teams and say, “If we make a light, we (green team) get a point and if we get stopped at the light, the red team scores.” This way everyone wins (gets points) and/or loses (hits red lights) and it’s a great way to prevent the whining about getting there and the potential road rage on my part.
Road Trip Activities
When you’ve had enough road trip competition for one day, try your hand at some of these activities.
Small Dry Erase Boards for letting writing or a game of pictionary
Dance Party — turn up the jams and let them get their sillies out in their car seats
Alluminum foil art competition — bring along a dollar-store roll of aluminum foil to keep the kids busy for hours. Little ones can wrap their sippy cups and books. Older ones can make sculptures and chains to hang across the car.
Pipe cleaners and post-it notes are also a great hit for littles. What crafty souvenirs can your kids create?
Final Road Trip Tips
Just remember, a little control goes a long way towards keeping whiny kids at bay. Empower your kids by letting them help plan part of the trip: each child could pick an attraction to visit, or where the family will eat.
And let kids have a say in such things as the music choices, snacks, or whether or not to take the “scenic” route. These small doses of power your kids experience will cut down on power struggles throughout your journey.
If you need a little peace and quiet while you drive, try leaving at bedtime for longer rides. It’ll be seat belts on and lights out as your kids dream away the hours on the road.
And if all else fails, the portable electronics can be a great distraction. But too many movies can turn kids into backseat couch potatoes, so be sure to set reasonable limits.
Want to know the very best way to keep everyone happy on your next long road trip with kids? Don’t forget to set aside time each day for some one-on-one attention for each of your children.
When kids get consistent positive attention, they are less likely to act out in negative ways, like throwing their flip-flops out the car window.
Best of luck, my friend, we are wishing you all the best on your road tripping adventures
Title Image: Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock https://www.shutterstock.com / photos
This less-than-helpful word can be discouraging and confusing to kids when they hear it all the time, plus it only reinforces the bad behavior.
While it’s fine to say “no” and “don’t” sometimes, you’ll get more cooperation from your kids if you can avoid them.
Use these four strategies to cut back on the negatives and promote the positives:
Tell your kids what to DO. Start switching each “don’t” to a “do.” Instead of reminding your child, “Don’t track mud all over the floor!” try, “Please take off your shoes before coming into the house!” Swap, “Don’t chew on your sister’s
Lego’s,” with, “Please keep those out of your mouth.”
Just say “Yes!” While it’s quicker and easier to reply, “No,” when your child asks to go to the library while you’re knee-deep in closet re-organization, try substituting a, “Yes, that sounds great. I can take you later this afternoon
or tomorrow morning–which would you prefer?”
Replace, “No, you can’t go out and play. You haven’t finished your homework!” with, “You bet, you can play with your friends when you’ve finished your homework.”
Say thank-you in advance. Help your kids make an appropriate choice by taking this leap of faith. Your, “Thank you for hanging up your towel after your shower,” will encourage your kids toward good behavior much more than, “I better
not see your towel on the floor again!”
Another example: “Thank you for keeping all four chair legs on the floor,” will go over better than, “You’ll break your neck if you keep leaning back on your chair like that!”
Practice the positive through role-play. The most effective way to learn how to behave in a variety of situations is through proper training. Decide what kind of behavior you’d like your child to use (anything from taking turns to
addressing adults respectfully to making his bed properly), and then practice it in a low-pressure situation.
Role-playing with dolls or action figures will get younger kids excited, while a conversation (not a lecture) will help get older kids on board.
Making these changes to your communication style will require some effort on your part but the payoff will be worth it.
Your kids will feel more encouraged, they’ll develop a positive, empowered perception of themselves and you’ll enjoy better cooperation all around.
Looking for NO-YELLING strategies to get more cooperation from your kids? Join us for our FREE online class: How to Get Your Kids to LISTEN Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Find upcoming dates and times here.
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