Empowering Your Toddler with Positive Language

A woman and a toddler readding a book together indoors.

When giving instructions to toddlers, using positive language can help them follow instructions and make better choices.

It’s easy to use positive language when praising toddlers for milestones or expressing love, but what about those moments when you need to say “No!” or “Don’t do that!” in a constructive way? Here are some tips to help you stay positive in the heat of the moment while maintaining consistency.

If you’ve ever tried telling a toddler “No” you may know firsthand it’s a toss up whether or not they’ll heed your advice. There’s a reason for this. “No” is a more complex concept than many realize. Even though toddlers use the word “no,” they may not understand it the way you expect them to.

When you think about it, “no” and “don’t” aren’t concrete directives. Adults and older children are able to take the word “no” as a command and do the opposite, but toddlers are not wired that way yet. Intrinsic to their nature, toddlers are little explorers constantly becoming more and more independent. They are wired to “do” as opposed to “not do.”

Remember that toddlers are constantly learning and developing, so it’s important to be patient and understanding as they navigate the world of language. Toddlers don’t process words as quickly as adults do. Their budding language skills are forming, so it takes a few seconds or more for them to wrap their minds around what you just said. With that in mind, giving a young toddler a negative command like “stop it” isn’t really setting them up for success.

Giving toddlers concrete directives can be a great way to help them understand what you want from them. Here are a few more examples of how you can give toddlers a solid direction to better communicate them:

Instead of saying…

“Don’t play rough,” you can say “Use kind words and gentle hands.”

“Stop running,” you can say “Walk slowly and stay safe.”

“Don’t make a mess,” you can say “Put your toys away when you’re done playing with them.”

“Don’t touch that,” you can say “Keep your arms by your sides.”

“No, don’t destroy the train set your sister just put together,” you can say “Let’s work together to take care of each other’s toys.”

Remember to keep your language simple and clear, and to use positive language whenever possible. By giving your child specific instructions and positive reinforcement, you can help them make the right choice in a safe and supportive environment.

By giving them a positive action to take, they are more likely to follow your instruction. Additionally, toddlers respond well to praise and positive reinforcement. When they do something you want them to do, make sure to give them plenty of praise and encouragement. This will help them feel good about themselves and encourage them to continue behaving in positive ways. It’s also important to remember that toddlers are constantly learning and growing, so try to be patient and understanding as they explore the world around them.

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