Be Directive, Positive, and Concrete When Correcting Kids

When you are correcting children when they have done something they shouldn’t do, you need to be clear. You need to say what you mean. It is also very helpful to be positive.

Mom correcting her child

by Hank Osborne

Most parents of little ones use words like “no,” “don’t,” and “stop”. That is natural in the fact that you can’t expect a child to automatically know their boundaries. And it is completely unfair to a child to try and hold them accountable for something they have not been trained on. As the Ezzo’s teach, “you can’t correct what you have not trained.”

As parents we have to be careful. These negative terms can become an unhealthy habit. Children need to know what [to] do…as much if not more so than what [not] to do.

So what can parents do to balance out these negative phrases?

Be Directive

First let me say that we still have to train the “no,” “don’t,” and “stop.” Young children must understand their boundaries. However, you can say, “the TV remote is a no touch. Go play with your cars.” With an example like this we tell them what they are doing wrong, but at the same time we are not leaving them to figure out what they can do.

Watch for the Sneaky One

Some kids love the line. In the Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum the Ezzos call them micro-rebellious children.

These kids try you to see exactly what you mean when you give an instruction, especially when the instruction has some wiggle room. You might tell your child to stay on the carpet and they stand along the edge and just hang a toe over onto the hardwood.

You are not sure whether they are just trying to be cute until you see the sheepish little grin that screams, “What are you going to do about that?!” Yes, this is full out rebellion.

Use Positive Words

Instead of telling your child to “stop chewing on your nails,” you might say, “put your hands in your pockets.” Instead of saying “don’t hit your brother,” you might say “be gentle.” Instead of saying no yelling, you might say “use inside voices.” Of course, these things require some teaching and we must not obsess with using positive words.

Use Concrete Terms

This one goes along with a couple of the previous items in that you are using positive terms to be directive as opposed to saying to your pre-schooler, “DON’T MOVE!” while you unload the baby from the car seat. Anne Marie Ezzo shares a tip on how to make use of concrete terms in this situation as demonstrated in a video clip taken from a Toddlerhood Transition class. You can train your child to put their hands on the car using simple positive words that they understand and have practiced at home.

Hank Osborne is the father of four boys plus a baby on the way. He produces a parenting podcast and blog at

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When correcting kids be directive, positive, and concrete.

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