Watch your language; There are children around!

mum-daughter-hug!– START TOP CODE –>

This post was written for inclusion in the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted at Parenting Gently. All week, June 27 – July 1, we will be featuring articles and posts about alternatives to punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.


For last year’s Carnival of Gentle Discipline I wrote about a tiny word with a powerful impact:  “Yes!”

How many sentences do you begin with ‘No’ when speaking to your children? “No I can’t do that I’m busy”, “No you can’t have that it costs too much”, “No, we don’t have time for that”…

Language is one of our most powerful tools. We can speak words of love or words of hatred. How we speak to our children becomes part of the foundation on which they build their lives. Fill them with loving, positive, empowering words and they have a platform on which to build confidence, self esteem, motivation and self love.


When was the last time you said to your child ‘Don’t spill your drink.‘ or ‘Don’t leave your clothes on the floor.’?
According to the Law of Attraction, we need to focus on what we do want in order to create it. The same goes for language. ‘Hold your cup with two hands.’ or ‘Please pick up your clothes’ are more likely to get the response you desire AND model positive language.

TRY THIS: Instead of saying ‘Don’t make a mess’ try ‘let’s tidy your room.’


Adults are able to pick up on sarcasm or detect when a person says one thing, but means another. Children rarely can so they often do ‘wrong’ things because they don’t understand the instruction.

Children are born with an innate trust and belief that their parents and carers have their best interest at heart. They believe everything you say. What an honour! but what a responsibility.

As children mature they gain knowledge and finally in adult years they obtain understanding. Often, by the time they have reached the ‘understanding’ level the damage has been done. They’ve already been filled with negative messages such as ‘You’re stupid / ugly / clumsy / demanding’ and have formed a poor self image.

TRY THIS: SEPARATE THE PERSON FROM THE BEHAVIOUR: Instead of ‘You’re so stupid, I can’t believe you did that!’ try ‘To run across the road like that was thoughtless – you could have been injured.’ We may criticise the action, but must never degrade the person.


How many times have you heard someone shout ‘Don’t run or you’ll fall.’ or ‘Be careful!’?

Our instinct is to protect our children. Problems arise when we take it too far and prevent our children doing things because we are afraid of a myriad of dreadful consequences.

Children bounce, they bleed, they heal and mend and they learn through their own experiences. Give them opportunities to develop with positive encouragement rather than a critical, warning voice that instils fear and incapacitates natural development.

TRY THIS: Encourage ‘You can do it!’ or ‘You have a wonderful sense of balance’ rather than ‘Be careful’. I’m not advocating reckless parenting; you wouldn’t allow a two year old to cross the road by themselves, but they can explore climbing a gate.


Picture yourself in the park with your child. The sun us shining, the birds are singing. You have errands to run and instead of being in the moment, enjoying the space you are ahead in your mind, churning over the chores you need to get through. The child is in the present. You are in the future. Is it any wonder you end up in a battle of the wills when you tell your child it is time to go?

Many parents see a child’s uncooperative behaviour as a challenge to their authority. Once we understand that uncooperative behaviour is usually caused by a child’s unmet need or an adult’s unrealistic expectation, we don’t have to take the behaviour so personally.

TRY THIS: Give plenty of warning if your child is going to need to stop what they are doing. Give your child some warning time so they can move from one state to the next, such as ‘There is time to go on one more thing and then we need to go.’ Choose words that have meaning to your child. Telling a 3 year old they have ‘5 more minutes’ means far less to them, than explaining they can have two more turns on the slide.

What about you – how do you use positive language in your day to day life?

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

Please join us all week, June 27-July 1, 2011, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. We have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts – new articles will be posted on the following theme days:

June 27 – Practical Tips for Getting Started with Gentle Discipline
June 28 – It’s All About Feelings: Respecting Emotions and Consensual Living
June 29 – A Fork in the Road: Turning Points in Gentle Discipline
June 30 – Gentle Discipline Recipe: Love, Patience, and Cooperation
July 1 – Gentle Discipline Resources


  1. Kelly on June 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Really enjoyed this post – and learned a lot from it!

    I very much agree with letting them adventure – it’s something I try to let my 10 month old do even when I quake a little inside – and she is such an independent, adventurous little thing! I also try hard not to react much if she falls, and she’s already gotten to the point when she can crash on her butt and just brush it off. 🙂

    I’ll be keeping your other points in mind for when she’s older – especially the last one – I’m guessing quite a few battles can be avoided that way! 🙂

  2. Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife on June 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Great tips! Phrasing requests in the positive (do this) rather than the negative (don’t do that) is so helpful, and yet I find is the most challenging thing for me to remember. “No” and “don’t” slip out far too often around here! I appreciate the reminder to be mindful of our phrasing.

    “Be careful” is another phrase I often have to bite my tongue to hold in. Fortunately, my second is a bit of a daredevil and is well on his way to curing me of that!

    Using terms they understand when preparing to finish an activity is great advice. “Say goodbye to…” was another very helpful transitioning phrase for my toddlers.

  3. Melissa on June 28, 2011 at 4:06 am

    Thank you for writing this! I have a bad habit of overusing the phrase “be careful,” and am really working on changing that in favor of language that affirms my child’s ability to be careful without my constant reminders. I absolutely agree with you on the importance of positive language and appreciate your thoughtful discussion of these common pitfalls.

  4. Rosemary on June 28, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    This is great! I love the reminder of “two more turns” rather than time. Our daughter’s only 7mo, but my husband and I are already trying to make the conscious effort to be intentional about our language towards her. She’s learning to crawl and gets frustrated, so we are consistently acknowledging her frustrations, but encouraging her with lots of “You are working so hard!!” I really love the “you have a wonderful sense of balance” reminder too, as she’s already attempting to climb lots. 😉

  5. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama on June 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Oh such great reminders, thank you so much! I think Tom and I both use “be careful” entirely too often, but at the same time, we’re trying to up Kieran’s confidence – what a backward way to do it! I’m definitely going to be more mindful about letting him know I believe in him, not that I believe he can hurt himself 🙂

  6. Deb @ Living Montessori Now on July 9, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Great post! Language is so important, and these are wonderful reminders. I love the statement “We may criticise the action, but must never degrade the person.”

  7. Mrs Green on July 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    @Kelly: Hi kelly, you’re so welcome. Our little ones bounce so well!

    @Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife: Oh I know, it’s so much easier to say NO, especially when stressed and tired. Don’t beat yourself up though 😉

    @Melissa: Thanks for stopping by and commenting Melissa; glad it was helpful to you 🙂

    @Rosemary: Sounds like you are using some fabulous, empowering phrases Rosemary. Thanks for sharing

    @Deb @ Living Montessori Now: Thanks Deb – something tells me you use wonderfully, positive language with your family 😉

  8. dadsroutine on March 25, 2012 at 4:10 am

    No truer words have been spoken that ring true Mrs.Green. I actually follow on as much as the positives as you posted above, but have caught myself falling back on the negatives as well. However as a testment to a very positive approach to the actions of my child he is considered the best well behaved, courteous and well mannered young man of his age. Everyone is impressed how well he handles himeself and presents himself out in public. I truly agree with all that you have said and more about positive approach.

  9. Mrs Green on April 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    @dadsroutine: Sounds like you’re a very proud Dad – well done you 🙂

  10. […] life examples of gentle parenting.  First up is Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog who tells us to Watch Your Language; There are children around!  Last year, Mrs. Green reminded us to use the word YES! more often.  This year she reminds us […]