Write a Better Script
Have you noticed that our kids tend to parrot our words back to us? It can be scary and sometimes hilarious to hear little voices echoing our most common refrains.
It is less funny when your toddler latches onto your constant command of "no" and decides it is their new favorite word. When you look that tiny human in the eye repeating, "Mommy said, 'no'" the most common response of said human is to parrot, "no" right back at us. (enter despair...)
Take heart! There is a better way! Instead of saying "no" write the script you want to hear coming from their mouth and teach it to them line by line. When you stop your toddler from opening the cabinet door for the hundredth time that morning say, "Mommy said 'no'. Say 'Okay, Mom." "Okay, Mom" are the last words they heard and are therefore much more likely to be repeated. (Pro tip: did you know that young kids are much more likely to choose the last item from a list of options? So...if you have a certain option you'd like them to choose place it last in your list. "Would you like crackers, cheese, or apple slices?")
This "script writing" works for bigger kids too. For example, when I call one of my kid's names and they say, "What?" I teach them an alternate response. I don't want to hear "What?" I want to hear, "Yes, Mom?" You can read more about that life-changing idea here. My four year old and I turned this into a game the other day. I would go into the other room and yell, "Lucy?!?" and she would say "Yes, Mom?" and then I would come in and sweep her up in a big hug and give her lots of kisses and tickles and tell her how much I loved her response!
Learning a script takes time so we do lots of review. On the way to a play date I take a moment to review what behaviors and speech are acceptable. Here is an example of what that might sound like: "When I say it's time to go I want you to say, 'Okay, Mom' and come right away. Does everyone understand?"
Before birthday celebrations we review the "script" for appropriate reactions to gifts. When someone needs to apologize to a sibling or friend and they can't find the words, we help them find the right ones. "I'm sorry for ________. Will you please forgive me?" When you coach them in this way, you are teaching them to speak a language that is seasoned with grace. If we want to hear gracious speech coming from the mouths of our children then we need to speak graciously and give them intentional direction in how they can do likewise.
Lastly, because we use the Bible as our ultimate guidebook on how to parent (and do everything else), we try to use words the Bible uses when writing our "scripts". For example, we never tell our kids to be "nice". Nice has a bit of a wimpish implication - especially for boys. We constantly instruct our children to be kind. The Bible says love is kind. God is kind. Therefore, we reflect God's character when we are kind.
What words do you want to hear coming from your kids? Don't just discipline them for saying bad or sharp words, go one step further. Write them a better script and teach it to them line by line.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.