Parent Mistakes 2: Not Using The Right Words the Right Way

by | Jun 27, 2009 | Uncategorized

This week I’ll be sharing common parenting mistakes that we unintentionally make with our children. Here is the second mistake I shared with Natalie Morales on the TODAY show. 

PARENTING MISTAKE 2. Not Using the Right Words the Right Way
Solution: Be mindful of the result you are seeking and your word choice to achieve it.

Research proves our word choice can have a big impact on kids’ behaviors. Studies also show that the right words said at the right time are more effective in shaping behavior than rewards. The problem is too often we use the wrong words so we get the wrong results. Here are three significant solutions you can use based on sound child development research that will make major differences on our children’s behavior and character. 

  • Be specific and focus on the action (not kid). Catching kids doing the “right” thing is the fastest way to change behavior especially if you use an enthusiastic tone. It’s the only way to teach a children what you want them to do, and the right words will help them discover how to improve his behavior. Using “because” makes praise more specific so the child knows exactly what you liked, and is more likely to repeat the action. Switching pronouns from “I” to “you” stretches a child’s internal motivation. Instead of: “I’m so proud of you.” Say: “You should be so proud because….”
  • Don’t praise intelligence. A Columbia University study on more than 400 fifth-graders found that kids praised for their intelligence-something they don’t feel they have control over-are more afraid of failure, less likely to tackle new challenges and feel more pressure to perform. So comment on what they are trying to accomplish. So instead of saying: “You’re so smart.” Say: “I like how hard you are concentrating.” Carol Dweck’s research shows that you’ll actually be stretching your child’s perseverance. 
  • Emphasize effort not result. A University of Michigan study found that parents often praise the end product (the trophy, grade, or score). By switching your emphasis on the process or child’s effort during the task the child is likely to persist and succeed because he knows he has can control over the outcome of his success.

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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming The Big Book of Parenting Solutions available this fall. Portions of this blog are excerpted from this book.