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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Parenting with Love

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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As parents, we take our love for our children as a given. But do we consider whether the way we talk to our children communicates that love to them? Many of us have a tendency to use "negatives" when talking with our kids. "Don't do that," "Stop," "No," "If you do that one more time then...." Do these phrases sound familiar?

If so, then it may be time to consider another approach...positive parenting.


Children crave attention. It shows that they are important and that their parents care about them. Often, however, children get more attention when they misbehave, than when they behave. You can't forget to tell your child to stop beating up her brother. You can forget to compliment her when she plays nicely with the same brother all day.

The first thing you can do is pay attention to how many positive things you say to your child each day. Notice when your child acts in a way that deserves a compliment. If she plays with her toys and then cleans them up nicely, you can say, "Wow, the room is so clean." If she hangs up her coat without being reminded say, "You hung up your coat, great."

Make phrases like "great" "good job" "I'm proud of you" and "Wow, that was great" part of your vocabulary. While positive words are important, do not use them randomly. Just saying, "you're a good boy," means much less to a child than "you did a great job building that tower."

You need to come up with the words that will mean the most to your child, but keep the above comments in mind. The key is, for every negative word you say ("no, stop, don't do that") try and find an opportunity to say positive words as well.

This does not mean you should use positive words when your child doesn't deserve them. If your child hits, he should be "punished" in an appropriate manner (see Time-Out and Making the Punishment Fit the Crime). But during the period of time when your child is behaving, try and take notice.

Obviously, every now and then your child may have "one of those days" when no positive words apply. If you and your child have a day like that, don't feel bad. Do make sure to compliment him as soon as possible the next morning. This will make it clear to him that you forgive him for the day before and more importantly will teach him that he doesn't need to misbehave to get attention.

You are now probably nodding your head and thinking that this advice is obvious. In my experience as a parent and a teacher, however, I find that we can get so involved in "getting through the day," that sometimes we have a hard time keeping these ideas in mind.

Here is one activity, appropriate for children ages three to six, that can remind you to say good things and help improve your child's behavior in a positive way.


Write down some of your child's positive behaviors (i.e. helps around the house, picks up her clothes, always says please ....) and then list the behaviors she has difficulty with (i.e. fighting, screaming, not putting away her toys ....)

Take a piece of oak-tag and write on top, "Ashley's (your child's name) Good Work," or choose another title that appeals to you. Divide the paper into eight columns. Write two or three of your child's good behaviors on the first column of the list.

Now choose three or four behaviors that your child needs to "work on" and describe these behaviors in a positive manner.

Instead of "no hitting"... you can write "plays nicely."

Instead of "no screaming"... you can write "speaks softly."

Instead of "no making a mess"....you can write "cleans up nicely" or "plays nicely with her toys."

Add these positive items to the first column of your chart.

Make a grid so that your child has a square for each day of the week You can do a week at a time or try to set up the oak-tag the long way and then fit in several weeks on the same page. Buy some small stickers that will fit into the spaces.

Make the chart together with your child. Discuss the items you think she already does "great" and the areas she needs to "work on." An older pre-school child can help you make up the list. Of course, you need to explain that the words "playing nicely" refer to "no hitting." But by phrasing the words in a positive way, you are not pointing out bad behaviors, but instead are rewarding her for good behaviors.

Each night before he goes to sleep, go over the chart. Give him a sticker for every item on the list that he did well that day. In this way, you will end each day by pointing out several things your child did well and will give him an incentive during the day to work on the areas he has difficulty with. Yes, it's amazing what a child will do for a sticker! (And a hug and kiss from Mom or Dad!)

Each time the chart runs out is an opportunity for you and your child to re-evaluate her behavior. You may decide that a chart is not necessary, because "positive" words have become an integral part of your daily routine. Or maybe you will want to re-evaluate the behaviors on the chart and choose different ones.

Does this approach work for every child? Well, as I say at the end of every article, no approach works with every child. But I find few children that at the end of the day don't want to hear the words, "good job."


Each day, we face the challenge of trying to parent our children with love while dealing with the frustrations of daily life. Most parents tend to more or less do the right things, but in their haste, sometimes forget to say them. Your children know that you love them. If your language is "positive" then they will view love as a positive experience.

I certainly do not mean to imply that speaking positively is a cure-all. I do want to make you aware that the language you use during daily routines, as well as during quality time, will affect your child's self-esteem and her conception of what love is.

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 20:05
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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