A popular belief in interactional and language-based discipline is that, when adults state any direction or command given to a child using positive wording, the child complies faster (and easier) than when we use negative language, i.e. negative directions or a negative command. Typically crowded with harsh terms and spoiled with negative presuppositions about the child’s character or identity, a negative direction tells the child what not to do, for example, “Don’t run on the hall” or “Don’t bang on the table. What’s wrong with you today?!” (Negative presupposition: “There’s something wrong with you.”) In the same category we find the “Stop” command, for example, saying, “Stop yelling! I’m getting a headache!” (Negative presupposition: “You are giving me a headache.”) or “Shut up! I don’t want to hear another sound coming out of your mouth!” (Negative presupposition: “Your sounds are annoying.”) Positive directions, on the other hand, give the child an alternative of what to do instead of the unruly behavior; simply put, a positive direction redirects the child toward a more appropriate, acceptable behavior or a better behavior. As an added benefit, positive directions are “cleaner” (no demeaning terms) and free of contamination (free of harmful presuppositions). Here is an example:
Teacher: “Making noises at the table interrupts the other students. If you need to make noises, I want you (taking ownership of your message) to move quietly (command) to the back of the room and bang this toy (plush dog, command) for five minutes, (command), so that, when you feel better (powerful presupposition: “You will feel better”), you can return to the table (command).”
A parent would say to her child something like this: “I have a headache and loud noises make me feel worse (taking ownership of your message). I would like for you (taking ownership and also, softening your message) to go to your room (command) and play with your Legos (command) for one hour(command).”
Notice how in both statements, the adult remained in charge, and steadily, told the child, very specifically, what the child should be doing instead.
ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION
How to Give Feedback, Criticism, and Corrections that Improve Behavior
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