Positive Words That Redirect Challenging Behaviour


In challenging situations and when you have a classroom of others at the same time, finding positive words for a single situation when tired an busy can be a challenge.  No educator’s journey exists without frustration and challenges.  That is what makes it all so worthwhile.  Teaching the children in our classes to become considerate, compassionate, functional young men and women doesn’t come without frustration, and sometimes heartache.

Sometimes, through our own exhaustion and challenging circumstances, we can get caught up in looking at a specific behavior and not the child.  The behavior is just that, something that comes and goes.  It does not define who the children are.  It is not how others always see them.  However, if left unchecked, behaviors can become habits which can become so ingrained that they do become second nature and difficult to change.  The older they become, the harder it is to adjust behaviors and eventually, in old age, it becomes almost impossible to change.

As educators, sometimes we need to view the children differently.  In the heat of the moment when tensions are running high and patience is wearing thin, we need to change our language, not only to elicit a different response, but to change how we see them.

If we want to encourage positive behavior, we must not only use positive words but more importantly, we must replace the negative dialogue in our own heads with positive adjectives and positive language.

When we think of alternative positive words, we change how our brain sees things in that instant.  It interrupts our usual thinking patterns and allows us to broaden the scope to include more creative ways to redirect behavior.

Changing how we think in a challenging moment is a skill that comes with practice.  The more we do it, the better and quicker we become at it.  We retrain our brain to replace negative terms with more positive ones.

This is a process that occurs before anything even comes out of our mouths.  It is internal, switching the internal dialogue for something more appropriate which will then color our response.

It is only then that we put ourselves in the frame of mind to offer more constructive behavior guidance.

How we speak to a child has a direct impact on their behavior and also models for them correct principles as they are learning to govern themselves. This works for any age child – toddlers right through to teenagers.  For example, telling a child to “calm down” is not only ineffectual, it adds nothing positive to the situation.

While there isn’t any formula for the perfectly worded sentence, attempting to switch to positive words and language  is a step in the right direction.

“When we think of alternative positive words, we change how our brain sees things in that instant.  It interrupts our usual thinking patterns and allows us to broaden the scope to include more creative ways to redirect behavior”

Diana F Cameron
So What Is The Difference Between Negative and Positive Language?

We know what positive words are, but let’s look at negative words.  Negative words are anything that describes a child in a negative way or characterize a negative behavior.  “Aggressive, Fussy, Intense, Stubborn, Wild etc”.  Children who demonstrate these behaviors actually have skills behind the behavior that we often don’t think about.  Above you will find a list of possible replacements.  See how the negative behavior can actually describe something positive in a skill that you may not have thought about.

For example, you might be frustrated with a child that is always dreaming and not listening to you.  “Off in their own world”.  These children often have great imaginations, and their minds are busy creating stories and scenarios that we would not even know existed in their minds.  

A loud child that gets on your nerves because they won’t be quiet is actually an expressive child who is sharing his thoughts and feelings with everyone.

Replacing negative words with positive adjectives changes how we then respond, making it more likely we will have the mindset to be able to use positive language to direct behavior in the direction we wish it to go.

Secondly, negative language is any sentence with the word “no” or “not” in it, but can also encompass words that have negative connotations such as “stop, quit, can’t or won’t”.  There are others but these tend to slip into our vocabulary easily.

So What Are Positive Phrases?

Positive phrases can actually do a more adequate job in directing behavior.  Children often hear the negative words but don’t hear the instruction.  

“Keep your hands to yourself.”

They hear the annoyed tone but does the instruction get to where it needs to in the most productive way?  Children learn when in a positive emotional state.  So why not replace it with something like:

“Can you hold my hand?”

By giving a clear directive you are replacing the current behavior with another action, interrupting their brain patterns and giving clear directions as to what you wish them to do.  Keeping your hands to yourself really doesn’t accomplish that.  What does that mean?  How long?  To a child, 10 seconds seems like a long time, so they DID keep their hands to themselves and then repeated the action.

Another example:

Instead of : “Please use your words” (something we are all guilty of saying – usually when a child has hit another or pushed a child)

Why not try “Instead, why don’t we do this together _____”

Once again, redirection rather than telling them to stop a behavior but really not offering any clear alternative.

5 Things You Can Do To Start The Process

1. Use the positive word replacements.  
2. Put them in the room and practice using them when you aren’t stressed or in the heat of the moment.  
3. Be patient with yourself – it takes time to change your behaviors and way of thinking
4. Try to change negative words and phrases into positive language, giving a clear direction for an alternate behavior
5.  Breathe.  Dealing with challenging behavior is hard work and to keep your focus and not lose it takes practice, patience and skill.  If you don’t have the skill now, work on it a little day by day.  Tomorrow is always a new start

Diana Cameron

Diana has over 32 years in the early childhood industry and has been a guest lecturer and workshop facilitator both nationally and internationally for the past 20 years. She has a passion for inspiring educators to use creativity and imagination in their teaching.

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