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Shifting Your Language in Difficult Moments

I don't know about your children, but my children aren't always the happiest, calmest, and perfect human beings. They are children - they explore, they test limits, and they push buttons. Just like most kids! But, as a Montessori parent, I see it as one of my jobs to respond with grace and courtesy in these moments. This isn't always easy, and I'm not always successful, but I try. And, I have a few tools to pull out in these moments. 

One of those tools is the language that I use with my kids in difficult moments. By making a conscious effort to shift some of my language, I've found that we have fewer power struggles. Here are three ways, I shift my language in difficult moments when talking to my kids. 

Three ways to shift your language during difficult moments with your kids to avoid power struggles.

"I see..." 

"I see that water was spilled on the floor." "I see that the playroom wasn't picked up." "I see your pajamas on the floor."  "I see that it's time to get our shoes on." "I see yogurt on your face."

I see is one of the most powerful tools I have in engaging my children in tough moments. It's not a judgment or a command. It's simply an observation, said aloud. And, to be honest, I don't even say it directly to them as much as I just say it. Often just a simple observation is enough to call my child's attention to an issue. And, more often than not my child will know exactly how to remedy the problem and will take care of it to the best of his/her ability. 

And, if for some reason they didn't respond. That's alright. I would help remedy the problem. I might invite my child to participate (especially for an older child) but for a younger one I would model the behavior I want to see. Then, I would think about if changes are necessary in the environment to help my child in the future. Or maybe another lesson on doing this task is needed. But, I'm going to pick a neutral time when a power struggle is less likely. 

"You can..." {or other positive action}

"Feet stay on the floor, you can climb on the climber." "You can color on paper, let's go to the table." "playdough stays on the table" "You can play in the playroom." "Shoes stay on your feet, you can take them off inside."

This tool is probably the one I use the most in parenting my children. My gut reaction is always to say what I don't want my children to be doing. "Please, get out of the kitchen" for example. But, if you think about that, it's really broad and not really enticing action. I may need to move boiling water, but they just hear kitchen. They don't have a clear picture of where I need them to be or go, or what to do. Shifting my language to include positive action -- "You can play in the playroom" or " move your feet behind the line" -- tells my children exactly what they can do. It's not open ended and it evokes action. 

Three ways to shift your language during difficult moments with your kids to avoid power struggles.

If my children don't respond, I will judge the situation and see how much more I need to intervene. Often this is a time where offering a choice will help. If, for example, still refused to move from the kitchen to the playroom then I might add. "You can play in the playroom. Would you like to skip to the playroom or jump?" or (usually for a younger child) "You can play in the playroom. Would you like to walk or should I carry you?" 


Using the word "stop" is similar to using a positive action word. This shift occurs during those times when you want to tell your child "no." The problem with "no" in these moments is that you often really mean "stop." I'm mainly thinking about times when your child is about to do something dangerous -- your toddler is running toward the street, your preschooler is playing with an electrical outlet, your baby is about to place something small in their mouth. These are the times when you need to intervene quickly, and you need a child's compliance. In these moments, "no" is simply too abstract. Stop, on the other hand, is clear and quick. 

If my child didn't listen these are the moments when I would quickly and physically intervene. I would physically stop my child from going into the street, or from eating something dangerous. This doesn't mean I have to do it in a punitive way or an aggressive way. I would just keep my child from harm. 

Remember in all these instances, punishment and immediate compliance is never the goal. Discipline comes from within the child and is a process, just like everything else! 

Three ways to shift your language during difficult moments with your kids to avoid power struggles.

Do you ever shift your language during difficult moments with your children? Do you have any tricks in this area? 


Whitney said…
I really like the “I see statements and am excited to try them with my 3 year old!” I do like using “stop” more often instead of “no”, but “stop” is an abstract concept. For littles I have found “stop” and the action you want them to stop doing more effective. For example: “Stop your feet”, when you don’t want them to run into the road.
Unknown said…
Love this! I try really hard to implement this in our lives. It's good to have this reminder.
Unknown said…
very good information and i relate to this too much lol

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