The way we talk to kids is important, as parents and as speech therapists. If we want our children to act a certain way or complete a task the words we use matter.  

Tell and Don’t Ask:

In high school and college  I worked as a pediatric dental assistant. Dr. Joe taught me, never ask children, tell them instead. I have always remembered that and it has stuck with me because it works. Some things are not a choice, for example cleaning up, brushing teeth, or participating in speech therapy. Children do not get to choose, they have to do it so don’t ask them, tell them.

Expand on Don’t: 

If children are doing something wrong or incorrect they need to be disciplined or corrected, but the way you say it is everything. Instead of saying, “don’t do that.” Tell them, “I don’t want you to do that” or “I won’t let you do that” and then go onto tell them why. For example, “I won’t let you throw toys because it is dangerous and it can hurt someone.” Kids need to know why they cannot do something. What will happen if a child throws a toy or hits you? The result, is someone can get hurt and they may have to go to the hospital. So, tell them that and expand on “don’t.”

Address Feelings:

Once you have told the child not to do something address feelings. For example, “How do you think hitting makes mommy feel? Sad, yes, it makes mommy feel sad and hurt when you hit. Do you want to make mommy feel sad?” Your child will begin to understand that they don’t want to make mommy or other people feel and as a result they will change their behavior. 

Perspective Taking:

Next, practice perspective taking. Ask your child, “How would you feel if someone hit you?” You would feel sad and hurt too.  Those are not good feelings, you don’t want to feel that way and you don’t want anyone else to feel like that either. We need to understand how someone else sees the world to be able to work together, communicate and show empathy and understanding. This is a life skill that is essential in our social interactions. 

What Will You Do Differently Next Time?

Finally, ask the child, what will you do different next time? They should say, “I will not hit.” They will tell you how they will do things differently next time. This will drive home what you expect going forward.