Recently, I was at the home of a dear friend, and I heard her say to her son, “Sweetheart, if you don’t sit straight I am not going to give you any soda.”
Since it was not in my own home, it was very simple to think of a better and more constructive way to get that point across. How about, “Sweetheart, I want to give you soda, so please sit straight.”?
What is the big difference between the two approaches?
The answer is simply, control.
When we use the first statement, “If you don’t sit straight I am not going to give you any soda,” then we are maintaining control over our child. However control is neither motivating nor educational. Your child learns nothing from control tactics, aside from how to deal with feeling threatened.
Little Joey does not understand the connection between sitting straight and getting soda. He is excited; he has no intention of misbehaving. Perhaps he is simply too excited to sit still, or had been sitting uncomfortably still for too long. A pet or sibling may be touching her toes from under the table. Joey does not want to annoy you, in fact he’d really like to please you.
Using the second method of instruction, “I want to give you a drink, so please sit still,” gives the child instruction. Now, Joey has learned a lesson, that in order for Mom to give him the soda, he needs to be in a better position in his chair.
A controlling message will convey the need for a power struggle between parent and child. Avoid power struggles at all costs. Saying, “If you don’t do this, I won’t do that,” on a regular basis teaches our children negativity. Look for the words “If you don’t do this, then I won’t…” in your vocabulary, and think about how you can re-phrase your message more positively.
“Joey, if you don’t finish eating dinner, you can’t play with the new hockey set.”
Is there a better way to say this? Absolutely!
“Joey, I’d like you to be able to play with the new hockey set, so please finish up eating your dinner.”
What a world of a difference our attitude makes when conversing with our children. Will your kids always listen and do as they are told when we drop the controlling commands from our speech? Of course not. Even when we say things in the most positive light, the response we desire may not be forthcoming from our children. The chances of a good response, though, are far, far greater.