If you’ve ever been around a Montessori family or one who is invested in positive parenting techniques, you may have noticed something — the way they speak to their children is quite different from the way you normally hear adults and children interacting. In Montessori training, we learned several key things to keep in mind when speaking to toddlers — and in fact all children:
- Get down on the child’s level when speaking rather than speaking from above or shouting across the room.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Speak clearly, slowly, and literally — toddlers don’t get sarcasm.
But what is actually being said matters, too. Here are 5 positive parenting phrases you can use at home to better communicate with your children:
1. “I’m picking you up now.”
The most important thing I learned from my Montessori Infant/Toddler training was that when you approach a child, even a young infant, you don’t just pick her up and cart her off to wherever you have in mind. Instead, you approach slowly, from where she can see you, and tell her what you are about to do before you do it. And then you continue to tell her what you are about to do, as you change her diaper, or put her down again, etc. This shows even the smallest pre-verbal, pre-mobile infant that you respect her body and allows her to take a small part in what you are doing to her.
2. “You may…”
Another thing to keep in mind when speaking to young children is that they respond much better to positive phrases than to negative ones. Tell them what you want them to do, rather than what you DO NOT want them to do. Using words such as “You may…” places the emphasis on the child and her ability to make decisions. A negative phrase such as “You may not…” leaves the child guessing as to what she may do instead.
You can also use this phrase to offer two different options [each of which must be acceptable to you] to your child, empowering her to make the choice.
3. “What do you think you could do…”
How many times a day do your children come running up to you with some huge end of the world problem that just can’t be solved without you? And how many times do you respond by simply fixing whatever the problem was? Stop doing that. Instead of immediately fixing it, begin by asking your child, “What do you think you could do to fix that?” This shows your child that you trust in her problem-solving abilities, and also helps her to build self-confidence and independence.
4. “How would you like me to help?”
Sometimes there really IS a problem that just can’t be solved without you, or something that is causing a great deal of stress and frustration for your child, and your assistance is needed. Instead of swooping in to help where YOU think your child needs help, ask her first. “How would you like me to help?” or “What part would you like me to help with?” This often helps the child to realize that she can do all of it herself except for one tiny part, which she will ask you to help with.
5. “How did that make you feel?”
This one can be used in so many different situations to help your child understand her own feelings and be able to express them to others. For example, if she comes running up to you to tell on a sibling or friend, ask her how that situation made her feel. After she has expressed that to you, encourage her to take that back to the child she’s telling on to begin a peace talk there.
This can also be used to avoid giving empty praise and having your child rely on your reactions to her accomplishments to decide how she feels. When she runs up to you all proud or excited to show you something, before you pass judgement on it, ask how it made HER feel. Then base your reaction on the emotions she has expressed to you.
I’ve been using these phrases in the classroom and at home for so long that they’re just second nature now — my mom has pointed out that we even use many of them with our dog!! Try them out with your own young children and see how they react. I’m willing to bet you’ll see difficult situations diffused more easily and positive connections made with your child before long!
For more about Montessori parenting and positive redirection, check out my Montessori Parenting E-Course!