Every day, I see something of an epidemic among moms: negative patterns of thought, speech and reactions towards their children. Our negative attitudes towards our kids is evident in our posts on social media, conversations during playdates, even chats at Bible studies and church functions.
While we’re deep in this season of training and disciplining our kids, we tend to slip very easily into a negative mindset about them. Wanting to manage and correct wrong behavior (rightfully so), we unintentionally zero in on their bad behaviors and overlook the good ones.
Every time we see one, it’s like a bell goes off. Ding! Unkindness. Ding! Selfishness. Ding! Irresponsibility. And we swoop in to provide correction.
Before we know it, we’re caught in a cycle of negativity where we can’t seem to find anything good about them. Here are some practical strategies to change those negative attitudes and feelings towards your child, and still discipline them appropriately!
Replace Negative Labels With Positive Words
Sometimes we get so stuck on seeing our children in light of their faults and weaknesses, that we begin attaching negative labels to them without thinking. Honestly though, what we see as a weakness or frustrating trait may just be a particular way God created each child to walk in the good works has He planned for them! Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So your “lazy” or easily distracted child? Think of him or her as people oriented instead. Play to their strengths, such as being compassionate and tuned into other’s hearts and needs. Then direct these qualities in a positive, helpful way like volunteering, while you work with your child on becoming more attentive and focused.
As for a “bossy” or serious child, think of him or her as task oriented. Their strengths are being responsible, organized and able to lead others, so direct these qualities in a positive, helpful way like heading up projects. These opportunities to shine will boost confidence in your child, while you also gently work with him or her on addressing problems in a tactful way.
Here are some positive words you can use to help you change the way you see your child:
Change the way you respond
Research has shown that negative language is, in fact, ineffective. Especially for young children, negatively worded discipline is much harder to understand. For example, ‘stop’ on its own tells a child nothing. He is left to deduce what he shouldn’t be doing and what he should be doing. Even by adding what, specifically, he should stop doing, you’re requiring him to double-process. First, he must process what you’ve told him not to do and then still figure out what he should do instead.
In contrast, positive language is far more effective because it tells children how to cooperate. It eliminates unnecessary frustration for your child who now has clear instructions. It also reduces your frustration, since you don’t have to waste time repeating yourself in several different ways until your child responds. Some common examples of negative language and alternative positive phrases:
- Don’t run → Walk, please.
- Stop touching your sister → Keep your hands to yourself.
- Don’t throw toys → Please keep your toys on the ground.
- Stop interrupting → I can see you want to talk to me. Wait one moment, please.
- Leave him alone → Come over here and play.
- Don’t hit → Only gentle touches, please.
- Stop yelling → Quiet voice, please.
- Calm down → Take a deep breath. We can work through this together.
- You don’t need another toy. I’m not buying that. → If that’s something you really want, why not save up for it?
- This is nothing to get upset about → I can see this is hard right now. Let’s work together.
Additionally, positive language reinforces good behavior and shows thoughtfulness. This is because the parent is responding in a way that doesn’t just default to “no,” or “stop.” When we use the same phrases over and over without much thought, our children are more likely to ignore us.
I’ve found that I don’t react to my kids’ behavior or requests out of exasperation nearly as much when I pause, reflect and then respond. By approaching both of my children with more patience and a willingness to find a solution, they were more likely to do the same.
Look for ways to praise them
Another great way to beat a negative attitude towards our kids is to simply affirm them. By intentionally looking for the praiseworthy things they did that day, you’ll call to mind their positive attributes and behaviors, and won’t be so focused on the negative ones. If they feel like we’re always pointing out the bad stuff, they’ll get discouraged and think they can’t ever please us. As a result, they might even act out on purpose since this is the only way to attract our attention, which just perpetuates a negative cycle.
So be on the look out for them letting a sibling have a turn first, working hard on a particular character trait or their school work, or putting in the effort to practice a musical instrument or sport. And on special outings, resist the urge to give them instructions and correct unless it’s a major discipline issue. Noncritical listening breeds closeness!
Seek your approval from God
“If we take our meaning in life from our family, our work, a cause, or some achievement other than God, they enslave us,” says Tim Keller. It’s scary how easy we can become enslaved by the things of this world in an effort to be seen as a “good mom”. We try to live up to other’s expectations by keeping a busy extracurricular schedule, an immaculate house or focusing on our kids’ outward behavior to the neglect of their hearts. Eventually, we end up resenting our children for all the time they’re taking up and not doing their part in contributing to our success.
As a mom I’ll never be able to get the approval of others- ever. I can never live up to “their” ideas of what a good mom is, because everyone has a different opinion.
But I don’t need the approval of others to be worthy. I already have God’s approval because of what Jesus has done for me and in me. God sees me and thinks, “This is my child, who I love completely. This is my daughter, and I am getting a heavenly home ready for her.” When I live my life out of those thoughts of approval, everything changes.
When the house is a mess and you have no plans for dinner and the kids are out of control, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “God still loves me absolutely and completely in this moment.”
When I focus on God first and foremost as a mom, He will guide me on how best to raise children. When I change my mindset from what I can accomplish in my limited efforts to what He has already provided through grace, I’m able to see my kids in the right way.