“It looks like a beautiful ballroom!” she said. My five-year-old daughter was awestruck. She approached the open restaurant floor and twirled with wonderment. In truth, the bistro was attractive and inviting. So I couldn’t fault her enthusiasm.
As we sat down to dine with some friends from out of town, everything felt connected. We were celebrating was their last night after a fun-willed weekend together. My kids had just spent the last hour swimming, jumping, and moving from the hotel pool to the hot tub and back again.
If there was a good time to bring two young kids to a nicer restaurant, it was now. They were exhausted and ready to eat.
Then it started
When ten minutes turned to twenty and the food still hadn’t arrived, things weren’t going quite as ‘swimmingly.’ Soon, both kids were up on their knees bouncing. Next, my daughter was playing with the chain links holding the curtains as my son attempted to slip down his chair onto the floor. Of course, my husband wasn’t there yet. And I could sense our company was becoming increasingly unimpressed with the restlessness of my kids.
One of our guests told them to stop repeatedly. I asked them to sit still again and again and again.
“Stop playing with your cutlery.”
“Don’t touch that.”
It wasn’t working. At all.
Then it dawned on me.
In the past, when I corrected my children only using negative language, things fell apart. When I try to get my kids to behave, “don’t,” “stop,” and “no, no, no,” is more like white noise than effective communication. The reason? Negative language requires kids to double process. (Hint: we want to avoid this.) When my kids, “Don’t do that,” he or she is left to answer:
For someone who has only been on this earth for a few year, that’s a lofty request. Especially when they’re having fidgety, struggling to self-regulate, and bored.
And that’s not the worst part.
Already, kids are less inclined to listen when faced with these statements. To compound the issue, the more children hear what they shouldn’t be doing, the less they want to comply. The reason for this is pretty simple. When we are told repeatedly what we are doing wrong, we lose the motivation to do right. And thus, we are left with kids who aren’t listening.
Put yourself in their shoes. At work, if our boss constantly shoots down our ideas without giving constructive criticism, we lose motivation.
In order to get our kids to listen, we must phrase our discipline and criticisms positively. My critics read these words and think I mean you should never ever use the words stop or no with your children. That certainly isn’t realistic nor is it the case. However, to get our children to listen to us we must speak in a way that both is easy to understand and is motivating to listen to.
Saying things like, “Sit down,” as opposed to, “Stop it,” is a vast improvement. However, in order to get out children to listen, we must also tell them how to direct their energy when they are struggling to self-regulate.
When it dawned on me that I wasn’t telling my children what they could do, our dining experience changed.
The more kids hear what they shouldn’t be doing, the less likely they are to comply. My kids instantly lost motivation to make a better choice when they are told repeatedly what they did wrong.
Then it dawned on me, I wasn’t telling my children what they could do. Sure, I had told them to sit. But I hadn’t told them what they could do to preoccupy their time while waiting.
I replaced my requests for them to sit on their bums with asking if they’d like to go for a walk.
Instead of asking them not to play with their cutlery, I suggested they play with a handful of toys I had forgotten in the bottom of the diaper bag.
It worked like a charm. The last ten minutes spent waiting for our dinners was peaceful and pleasant.
When my kids ask to go to the park without me (which they’re not allowed to do), I highlight how far they can ride their bikes on the street.
After catching my daughter drawing on the walls (and after she scrubbed them clean), I suggested she used chalk on the basement floor.
The other day when I caught both using a sharpie to colour, I handed them their washable markers and explained why they aren’t allowed to use sharpies.
If they want something sweet to eat, I suggest a healthier choice.
When they fight with each other, I tell them that they can’t hit or use mean words but they are allowed to say that they upset or angry and why.
Parenting in this way is definitely more challenging than simply putting limitations on our children. However, our kids will listen so much better as a result of our efforts.