We’re so happy to have a guest with us today to explore how to talk to kids so they’ll actually listen! Today’s post was contributed by Paige Hays, owner of Paige Hays, Therapy Services in the Twin Cities, MN area. Paige specializes in pediatrics, with expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities and complex medical needs. Take it away, Paige!
I Stopped Saying “No,” “Don’t,” and “Stop,” and It Worked!
No standing on my keyboard.
Please don’t lick the floor – it has germs.
Stop putting play dough in your nose.
As a pediatric OT, I spend a lot of my day redirecting kids and giving instructions. I often feel like a broken record, repeating myself over and over, and sometimes it can get exhausting. I got to the point in my therapy practice where it felt like I was saying “No…Don’t…Stop!” all day long. My approach simply wasn’t working.
When I took some time to reflect on the way I was interacting with kids, it all came down to one important question – Are the directions I’m giving helpful to the child? The answer? Nope. Something had to change.
Here’s how you can shift your approach to supporting and guiding children in a more positive way at home, in the classroom, in the therapy room, and beyond!
1 || Tell the child what he or she should do rather than emphasizing what he or she shouldn’t do.
Young children are still developing their executive functioning skills and one of these skills is impulse control. When you tell a child what not to do, he or she focuses on the action you describe but often can’t control the impulse to do that very action.
What if I told you not to imagine a purple rhino? Yep. I know exactly what you’re imagining right now. Purple rhino, right? When we focus our instructions on the action we want to see the child perform rather than what we don’t want them to do, they’re more likely to comply.
2 || Take the guesswork out of the equation.
Another part of executive functioning is inference making. Children often do not know what they should do or what they are allowed to do. We assume that when we say “stop running,” kids will understand that we mean they should walk. Kids’ language and cognitive skills may not be developed enough to make this connection.
Simplify for the child. When you tell them what you want them to do, you avoid issues with impulse control and inference making. For example, “No standing on my keyboard” becomes “Jumping feet go on the trampoline please!”
3 || Build the child’s inner voice by modeling tone and words.
When we give instructions and redirection, we have the opportunity to teach a child how to coach himself during difficult situations. Children internalize the voices of the adults around them as they build their own inner voices. When we model calm, positive language for kids, that language becomes their inner voice.
With a calm, respectful voice, give the child a running dialogue that describes what they should do in positive terms and why. For example, “Don’t lick the floor, it has germs!” becomes “Our mouths are for talking and eating, not for the floor.”
What are your best tips and tricks for providing instructions and redirection during therapy sessions, in your classroom, or with your kids at home? We’d love to hear! Leave us a comment below!
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