How to Talk to Your Kindergartener

How to Talk to Your Kindergartener

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Updated on May 21, 2014

Sometimes, it's necessary to send your child a verbal stop sign. Whether you need her to stop hitting, tattling, putting someone down, or using inappropriate language, you need to communicate that desire by using parent talk that is clear and direct.

But how to go about it? You know that being firm and consistent is essential, but what if it's just not working? Here's what you need to know about talking to your kindergartener in terms that she will respond to.

Telling a child to “stop whining,” or “stop calling your brother names" can send a red light signal that he needs to stop his current behavior. But it produces short-term results, and only some of the time. To produce long-term behavior change, parents need clear communication that not only identifies the behavior that needs to stop, but suggests an alternative behavior to take the place of the undesirable one. For long-term effectiveness, red light parent talk needs a green light to accompany it.

The red light/green light system consists of two parts: the red light phase, which communicates “stop,” and the green light phase, which teaches a new behavior or gives a “go.” The "stop" may be your number one priority. But if you want your child to learn new behaviors that permanently replace the old ones, you need to arrange your language patterns to communicate a "go", too.

Here's a step-by-step guide to implementing this approach with your child:

  1. Red light language begins by identifying the behavior by name, such as, “John, that's name-calling.” It's very important that you call the behavior by the same name every time. It matters less what you call it, and more that you stick with the name you decide upon for every occurrence. In other words, if you call the behavior "whining" one time, don't call it "complaining" later.
  2. The second part of the red light phase communicates to the child that the behavior is inappropriate or doesn't work with you, such as, “We don't allow put-downs in this family.”
  3. Combine both parts of the red light phase to send a clear signal to the child to stop. “John, that's name-calling. We voted at the family meeting last week to eliminate that behavior.”
  4. Once again, always follow a red light with a green light. The "go" step is where you teach the new behavior to tell your child what does work with you. For example, “Please tell her what you want to have happen and share how you're feeling.”

When you use clear parent talk, you teach your child that she is only one choice away from getting what she wants or from acting appropriately. When you teach her the new behavior, you empower her to be able to make that choice immediately. And guess what? You make her more capable and more likely to make the appropriate choice, now and in the future.

Chick Moorman is the author of "Parent Talk: How To Talk To Your Child In Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility" and the co-author of "The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose."

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