Mother May I? Changing Your Vocabulary to Change Your Child's Attitude
When you're a kid, you get asked to do a lot of things. In fact, most of your day is filled with following the instructions of adults who know how to do what they're asking of you and most likely, know how to do it better. As a caregiver, your day is filled with mostly giving instructions and possibly getting frustrated when your child doesn't do it the way it should be done. An attitude shift needs to happen in order to give your child some kid-friendly responsibility and the caregiver an opportunity to not always feel like the school marm pointing her finger and declaring "Just do it!"
As caregivers, we have a tendency to wrap these instructions up in a "Can you?" based way; "Can you clean up your dinner plate?" or "Can you go make your bed?" We do this because we try to extend an air of politeness to children when we give instructions instead of just barking them out like drill sergeants. We need to give instruction- that's how kids learn the ins and outs of life, the rights and the wrongs, the "You don't pick your nose!" and the "We don't lick other people!" ways of life. But kids are great at trying to best us and that's when the "But I can't!" comes out. These 3 words give me the shudders. I despise them because usually, they're false. Usually, the cold truth is that your child simply doesn't want to do whatever you're asking them to do. And at the lowest of times, caregivers simply give up and do the action themselves. This unfortunately teaches the child nothing but irresponsibility or disrespect.
So what can you do about it? You change your vocabulary. You turn your "Can" into "May" and add an "and". For example, instead of saying "Can you please clean up your dinner plate?" you would say "You may do your cleanup and then we can play!" Too simple? Just hear me out, I swear this works! Changing one simple word makes all the difference; "May" is softer and suggests you're giving permission not asking for it. Adding an "and" reminds your child of the next step or even the reward for doing the requested task. Lastly, "mayn't" isn't a word so they can't respond with "But I mayn't!" Just kidding - your kid isn't an idiot and will probably try to still respond with "But I can't" for the first few times. If that's the case, calmly respond with "You can and you may!" If your child is bold, maybe they try the "But I can't!" again in which case, here's another vocab change you can start shifting into your life - "You don't have to be able to do it perfectly but you do have to try." This last one shifts not only your child't attitude but yours as well. Your child gets reminded that it's ok if your child really can't complete a task, the important part is that they tried. You get reminded that it's ok if they really can't complete a task, the important part is that they tried. Yes, you might lose a spoon or two because your child threw them in the garbage instead of the sink but the important thing is that they cleaned up!
I noticed that changing these simple things in vocabulary not only made me feel less harsh but it helped integrate instructions into everyday life. Now, my kids do their cleanup after every meal, generally without me reminding. Now, an attempt is made to get dressed by themselves and we laugh about the occasional backwards shirt instead of have a 5 minute argument filled with "But I can't!" and "I know you can do it so just do it!" Now my kids have a sense of accomplishment and pride when they try to do something that they swore they couldn't and they successfully complete it. Caregiving is sometimes as art of subtlety and now, you may go out and try for yourselves! ;)
Does your child tend to take instruction pretty well or do you always feel like your barking out orders?