Techniques in Telling Off

telling off scaled
Techniques in Telling Off

Telling off your child may feel as if you have failed. Tensions can be high, and you might resort to telling your child off in a way that might remedy the situation short-term but isn’t a positive discipline technique. We discuss why discipline Is important here, and failing would be not preparing your child for the world. But, like all forms of teaching, there are better and worse ways of doing it. Due to how we were raised we might have strong ideas as to how to tell your child off. You may have bad memories and have vowed not to treat your child in the same way.

“Those messages play like endless tapes. ‘How could you be so stupid?’ ‘You can’t do anything right.’ ‘This is why no one likes you,’” says Karyl McBride, Ph.D. “Shaming and humiliation cause fear in children. This fear stays as they grow up. It becomes a barrier for a healthy emotional life and is difficult to eradicate.” However, if done positively, telling off can be an effective disciplinary technique. Not just to stop it in the short term, but to help your child have the empathy to understand why their behavior is either dangerous or unsuitable.

Ultimately, the goal is to get your child to behave using words like “stop,” “don’t,” “can’t,” and “no” as sparingly as possible. These are excellent words but can become diluted if used all the time. Think of the school teacher who is always shouting. In the end, you stop listening. And also to not lose it so much so that you go off on a tirade in public instead of calmly telling your child that you’ll discuss it later at home. This tactic is essential for both your sakes. While it keeps you from saying something you might not have said otherwise, it gives your child time to reflect. At home, you can calmly engage in a more fruitful discussion, and nobody loses face.

How Do I Tell My Child off in a Positive Way?

Telling your child off in a positive way doesn’t negate the need to be assertive. Even that can sometimes be done in a way that allows the child to learn from the experience. With more practice, situations where you absolutely have to use strong language like “Stop that right now!” would be few and far between. Below are a few ways to tell your child off in a positive way:

  • Engage their critical thinking skills. Instead of using snappy phrases like “I’m warning you” or “Be careful,” use phrases that clearly describe or invite them to recall something you must have repeated to them often. Repeated instructions are easily a source of irritation for parents. With a gentle tone, you might say something like, “What did we say about jumping on the couch?” Or “Remember we put our plates in the dishwasher when we finish.”
  • Give them a choice. With direct instructions, children are usually tempted to resist. But when you frame instructions in such a way that gives them a choice (or at least the illusion of choice), that part of them that wants to resist would be overridden by the part that wants to make that choice. Instead of “Come on, we need to go now,” you might say, “We leave in five. Would you like to gather your things yourself or have me help you with them?”
  • Let your requests come with an explanation. With older children, most times, requests that come without reason don’t register. An explanation tells the child why they need to stop doing what they’re doing. Failure to comply is now directly connected to the said consequence in the explanation attached. For example, instead of saying, “No, don’t bang the door,” say, “I need you not to bang the door because it will disturb your sister’s sleep.” Most children are reasonable but find it hard to see the consequences of their actions outside of their world.
  • Tell your child what they may do instead of what they can’t do. Telling your child what they can do gives them an alternative, which in some cases can save you from having to deal with a tantrum. If your child is jumping on the furniture, instead of saying, “Don’t jump on the furniture!”, say, “The couch is for sitting. If you want to jump, you may do so on the carpet.” Also, this is an excellent way to minimize using no and therefore keep its potency. According to Audrey Ricker, Psy.D., co-author of Backtalk: 4 Steps in Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids, saying “no” too often can desensitize a child to its impact. Better to save for situations where it’s absolutely needed. If your child asks to go outside and play on the lawn, instead of saying outright, “No, you can’t play now,” say “You can play after you’ve done your homework.”
  • Be clear about what you’re not willing to do. In situations where your child wants you to buy a particular item for them, and you’re not willing to buy it, you may think it’s easier to deflect and create the illusion of scarcity. After all, a simple no or that you can’t afford it, and the child will leave it alone. But how can you handle this better? Tell the child you’re not willing to buy it and offer ideas on how to get it. You could say, “I’m not willing to buy it at this time. Would you like to use your allowance money?”
  • Calm down together. When kids are having a tantrum in demand for something, it might be tempting to tell them off to get them to stop. But this can be handled in a firm but positive way. Hunker down and ask them to breathe with you so they can calm down. Say something like, “Let’s breathe and calm down, then you can ask for what you want.”
  • Take a minute to calm down. Sometimes it’s the parent that needs to take a minute and cool it. Maybe your child is struggling to buckle their belt or tie their shoelaces, don’t tell them off in an attempt to get them to hasten up. Don’t step in to do the task either. Say something like “I’m gonna sit here for a minute and wait for you to finish.” Don’t go, “You’re too slow. We’re gonna be late!”

Final Thoughts on Telling off Your Child Positively

It is a good idea to talk openly with your partner about how you will discipline your child. They may have equally strong views and it is essential that you agree on the majority of it. Rather than telling children off, parents can choose to view bad behaviors as teachable moments. There are few bad children, only bad behaviors. The sweet spot is to be firm and empathetic at the same time while giving the child the chance to learn. It is also essential to take care of yourself as a parent because fatigue and stress can cause you to make unusual parenting decisions. Try to use time-outs when you know you’re not in a good state to handle a parenting situation. This would save you from doing or saying something you’d wish you can take back later.