The classic parenting formula in psychology is love and limits.

Love your children and place limits on them. You must do both, according to psychologists. Love without limits – no rules or expectations – creates spoiled children. Placing limits on your children without loving them creates unloved, resentful children.

Both love and limits are necessary.

We’re not trying to replace the classic formula in this post. When it comes to implementing the limits side of the formula, there are certain ways to go about it that make a big difference. Awareness of your communication skills can be the difference between obedient children and confused, distracted, or even rebellious kids.

We’ll take our tips today from the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP, an interpersonal communication model that’s popular in many fields. NLP was developed in the early 1970’s at the University of Santa Cruz. One of the originators, Dr. John Grinder, was a linguistics professor.

#1 Language Tip to Encourage Obedient Children

Here it is: State requests in the positive.

Stating requests in the negative may be the most common linguistic snafu we parents make. We all know what happens when you say, “Don’t think of the color blue.” You must think of blue in order to understand the request. It’s a self-sabotaging statement!

Still, we tell our kids all the time:

  • Stop yelling.

  • Don’t do that.

  • Don’t drop it!

  • Don’t run into the street!

I remember a particular lunch break during my NLP practitioner training. We were standing at a busy intersection, waiting for the crosswalk signal to let us cross the street. A three-year-old girl was flirting with the very edge of the curb, as if she wanted to step off into the street where cars swept by.

Her mom screamed, “Don’t go into the street!” And can you guess what happened? The girl lifted her foot to step out there. Mom grabbed her up. And this little girl looked confused. I think she didn’t hear the “don’t” and was acting on “step into the street.”

When the girl was standing on her feet again, I said to her, “Your mom wants you to stay right where you are.”

Big deal. The girl would have been fine regardless, but I was learning these language patterns at the time and loved to practice. It worked!

Make a Positive Language Sandwich

To make your requests even more clear and persuasive, combine positive and negative statements to form a sandwich. The recipe goes like this:

  • Stand right here.

  • Don’t step off the curb.

  • Stay right where you are.

This way, you can tell your child what to do and what not to do, offering extra clarity. Ending with a positive statement keeps them properly focused.

  • Please speak quietly.

  • Don’t yell.

  • Use a soft voice, please.

  • Please clean your room.

  • Don’t play X-Box this morning.

  • You agreed to clean your first thing this morning. Please get started.

And so on.

In today’s distraction-prone, instant gratification world, we need to consciously promote emotional intelligence to our children. Making ourselves perfectly clear by sending positively-stated messages helps the effort along.