Say What You Want To See

Providing correction to children is one of the chief responsibilities of every parent. One important nuance in the area of brain development is crucial when facing this responsibility. The fact is that human beings of all ages don’t process negative commands well. Children especially, just don’t understand them. If your child is acting up and you tell them to stop being wild and obnoxious,” in their mind they hear “Be wild and obnoxious”. If you say, “Don’t hit your sister,” they hear “hit your sister”. Try it for yourself. If I tell you, “Don’t think about pink elephants,” what does your mind begin to think about? Yep…pink elephants. The reason this happens is because we think in pictures about what is being said. That is the way the human mind works.


With our children we must lean to say what we want to see. We must speak the instruction that will produce the positive behavior we are looking for. For example, instead of saying, “Stop being wild and obnoxious,” you can say “Straighten up and be calm.” Likewise, instead of saying, “Don’t hit your sister,” you can say “Keep your hands to yourself. Show me your best manners.” In this way, you are communicating the positive behavior you want to see in a way that their minds can understand it. This is what I call “seeding” the behavior that you want. Our words are like seeds, so by planting the right seeds, we will harvest the right behavior.


We also need to avoid saying negative, destructive statements to our children. Hurtful words spoken in anger are painful. They have lingering and limiting effects on the future of your children. Instead of saying, “You are so stubborn,” which is a negative, destructive statement, say something like, “You have a spirit of a leader, and you won’t be easily misled.” Or, rather than allowing a critical remark escape like “You are always making messes and getting into stuff you aren’t supposed to,” you could say, “I’m glad that you are creative and inquisitive. Let’s define what areas you can play in, and those that are off limits.” It is about putting a positive spin on the words of correction that we are giving.


And as parents, we must realize that whatever we are trying to teach our children to do, it is going to take them time and repetition to learn. They probably won’t “get it” or do it as well as you would like immediately, and that’s okay. Ask God for grace – divine strength and ability – to talk to your children in the most effective way possible. In this way you will be correcting them in the same way you yourself like to be addressed when you are in the process of learning something new. Aren’t we all glad that God is patient, kind; slow to anger, and forgiving when He corrects us (Psalm 145:8,9)? Let us imitate Him, since He’s the perfect parent.

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