Sunday, 15 July 2012

"What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" Book Review & Giveaway


"...awareness always precedes change."

So encourages author Sarah MacLaughlin in the introduction to her book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. "Rather than dwelling on occasional poor form," she continues, "focus on your intention to improve."

For parents and caregivers looking to improve their communication with children, this book provides both the awareness and the practical guidance to do so. Focusing on 1- to 6-year-olds, this short and to-the-point guidebook covers 66 common phrases that are counter-productive to raising emotionally healthy children.

Each chapter is hung on an effective framework of topic discussion, "what not to say" phrases, and more beneficial phrases that can be used instead. Children's book recommendations related to the chapter topics are also included in each section, furthering the parent's ability to discuss the topic with the child through an effective and age-appropriate means.

Following the introduction, the first chapter discusses common reasons that adults use ineffective or inconsiderate phrases when speaking to children, including fear, fatigue, and the expressions we heard as children. I found this to be a useful opening, as knowing why we do things is often the biggest hurdle to overcome in moving on to better paths.

The rest of the book was a refreshing and succinct reminder of, well, what not to say. "What on earth are you doing?" "Be nice." "There's nothing to be afraid of." "Good job!" While some of the phrases were completely out-of-bounds for me, others reminded me of my own struggles with carelessly tossing out a threat or speaking disrespectfully out of frustration. A few were phrases I'd never even considered as being inappropriate or ineffective; I always love finishing a book and feeling like I've learned something new.

What Not to Say covers a range of communication-related topics, including clarity of speech, tone, narration, respectful language, labels, bribes, emotional intelligence, control, and consistency. Above all, I appreciated the focus on seeking solutions rather than scolding, shaming, lecturing, spanking, or entering into power struggles.

This is definitely a book I would recommend to parents or caregivers of young children. It was short enough to be easy to get through, with just enough theory to make it convincing while still being heavy on the practical application. A perfect balance all around!


Win it!

Sarah is generously giving away an eBook copy of "What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" (PDF, epub, or Kindle format) at each blog stop. To enter, leave a comment on this post sharing a phrase you have eliminated or are currently trying to eliminate from your communication with your child. Sarah will announce the winner in the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you if you win!

Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah's Blog Tour page.

Also, you can enter at Sarah's site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch! The winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th.


About The Author

Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and a nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, where she works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots and writes the "Parenting Toolbox" column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life's work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say.

More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her website and her blog.

50 comments:

  1. I have successfully eliminated "Good job!" about 99% of the time and replaced it with "You did it!" Although all of our acquaintances still good job their kids own kids and even my daughter when around her, so she is constantly saying "Good job Mommy!" or "Good Job Daddy!" when we do something she likes. What can I say - she picked it up on the street.

    My husband's challenge in speaking to our daughter is putting "OK?" at the end of every statement, even when it's not something that we would be "OK" with the answer being no. He's getting better at making statements rather than questions for things that aren't really questions, and only phrasing things as a question if they are "would you prefer this or that" questions or yes/no questions where we can actually abide by her "no" answer.

    I've never used "Be nice" and it is a big pet peeve of mine - my Mom and MIL use that with my daughter sometimes while I grit my teeth. It's just so vague for a kid to understand what it means, and it usually just means "I want you to do exactly what I want you to do" in my experience.

    Gretchen
    whatarabelladid.blogspot.com

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    1. All of these examples are in my book. Well done!

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  2. I'm trying to avoid saying 'no'. It seems like the more I say it, the more my children say it.

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  3. We've mostly eliminated no from what we say. Working on eliminating "good job". It's a tough one. I like Gretchen's replacement of "You did it!". I think we will use that!

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    1. I also comment, "Hey, look at that!" with a sense of wonder.

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  4. I'm trying to elminate the reponse 'not right now', this is usually the response because I'm busy with dishes, chores, cooking whatever. Need to work on being more present and letting the house mgmt stuff wait.

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    1. Try being silly, start singing about what you are doing and how you wish you had twelve arms so you could do everything at once but wait then you would be an octopus and not a monny oh dear!

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  5. I avoid saying "Ok?" at the end of sentences (as Gretchen said above). I'm hoping it will rub off on my husband too :)
    I also try to avoid saying "Oh, you're fine" when my son bonks his head or hurts himself. Rather I ask him what's wrong or if he's hurt.
    Jennifer
    jennifer_c_hamilton@hotmail.com

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    1. Yes, that's a good one. Validate and listen! They will decide if they are fine or not.

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  6. When I'm in an overstressed situation & can't handle too much input (from anywhere----other than "my next turn in the car", etc.) I'm working on not saying "shut up". how rude!

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    1. Carrie Contey, PhD has an awesome solution for when you're losing it--just be silly about losing it, or at the very least off to the side so your emotional dummp lands somewhere other than on them: "Ahh...I'm losing it! I don't know what to do!" while waving your arms around in distress.

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  7. Rather than telling my almost four year old what *not* to do, I've been working on telling her what *to* do. For instance, rather than saying, "Don't leave your plate on the table!" I will say, "Please remember to take your plate to the sink when you're done."

    And like other moms, rather than saying "Ok?" at the end of a sentence, I'll say "Do you understand?" so that I still get a confirmation that she heard me, but without leaving it up for debate.

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    1. Yes, there is always a way to frame it as a yes. Just this AM I told my son, "Yes, we can get a munchkin at Dunkin Donuts, but on another day."

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  8. I'm still working on a few of the no-no's (I still catch myself saying "good boy" or "good girl" fairly often, though I'm trying not to!) but I *have* been pretty good at eliminating "don't" - at reframing what I'm asking in a positive way eg "if you want to jump on something, the trampoline is right there" not "don't jump on the couch" :-)

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  9. I, too, am trying to eliminate the "okay?" at the end of sentences, and trying to phrase things with "dos" instead of "don'ts." Kind of scary how ingrained our negative speech patterns are!

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    1. The questionsing tona and the "okay?" are the hardest for me to avoid. I think it is deeply ingrained in woman to be less assertive and directive. I am still working on this myself.

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  10. I am trying to work on stating things in a positive way instead of negative- I commonly say "don't leave a mess on the floor" and instead am trying to turn it into "please pick up your toys". I'm also trying to remember to give my children the respect they deserve and ask nicely instead of demanding (please make your bed before you come to breakfast, thank you). Not only is it important to model that for them to talk that way as well, they really deserve it! It is so easy as a parent to get into a habit of demanding instead of asking. One more- to notice their successes and not just notice when they are doing something wrong. I am really working hard on trying to bring attention to their great habits and interactions instead of just noticing when something is going wrong.

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    1. YES! Modeling is paramount. they are always watching you for tips about tone, respect, anger management...all of it!

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  11. Ugh . . . several come to mind, including many already mentioned here. One I really really really (really!) need to work on is "now" . . . tacked on to the end of a sentence that is supposed to be a simple statement or a respectful request. Or sometimes used by itself as an impatient demand. I'm starting to hear my girls use it with each other (and their younger brother) and . . . eek. Definitely need to work on that one.

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    1. They will show you where you need to grow!

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    2. Congratulations, Momma in Progress; you are the winner of the book giveaway! I will contact you by email shortly.

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  12. I have been trying to say "excuse me or pardon me" in place of huh or what? when I don't hear. I hope this will rub off on my 3 yr old.

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    1. I forgot about that one-I am a big time offender on this one. My husband and I were both in the habit of saying "Huh" all the time when we didn't catch what the other one said, and then our almost-3 year old started saying "Huh" to almost everything we said to her and putting a little grunt on the end just like Tim Allen from Home Improvement.

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  13. The phrase that was used on me, and that I had found myself repeating on my 4 year old son when at the end of my patience was "oh, for god's sake". Then I heard him repeating it when he became frustrated with something and I felt SO embarrassed!

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    1. My son says this too. And "Are you kidding me?" Let's keep at it. Change is incremental!

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  14. "Be careful" is one I'm saying too often lately. (Hey, I have a 5, 3 and 18mo old!!) It's not helpful, really. They don't change anything when I say it. Mostly, it causes my oldest to be nervous. So instead, I try to catch myself, and either 1) validate my feeling by reassuring myself of their capabilities, 2) rephrasing it to a more specific instruction (such as "keep your eyes on the path") or 3) actively go supervise if they're truly in danger.

    Looks like a neat book! :)

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    1. Yay! That one is in the book. You can narrate instead and also set a limit for your own comfort but be sure to say it's for your comfort, not because of lack of skill on their part: "I want you to climb down from there because I am feeling to nervous about the height. We'll find a lower spot for you to practive that."

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  15. "Good girl" is something I have worked very hard on removing from my vocabulary.. I try to phrase things to give a positive mental image - eg "walk slowly" rather than "don't run", but I forget quite a bit - and see straight away why I'm making the effort.
    I'm working too on giving my love as praise, for example when watching my daughter do an activity "I love watching you draw".
    Very helpful to read the comments above, and would love to read this book if I'm the lucky winner!

    natalie_bond85 {at} hotmail {dot} com

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    1. Yes, great--clear directives are so helpful. Also just narrating what you see with a warm and loving tone.

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  16. I'm working hard on "Good job" and "You're ok" (when he's upset). My son is only not-quite-two, but it's amazing how much I find myself saying both of those things.

    I've also been giving a lot of thought to how I talk to my dog when I'm around my son. I mean, I'm not really concerned about *the dog* and his self-actualization, but when I hear my son say, "No, Ender! Ender sit! Ender no chase cows!" in this really harsh-yet-adorable tone, I cringe a bit. He's just repeating what he hears.

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    1. I have heard this from other parents who have pets! So true!

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  17. What on earth are you doing is definitely something I have been doing - when they create a mess or draw with marker on the walls. Tryin to bite my tongue but sometimes I forget and it comes out.

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    1. So helpful to remember that their little brains are pushing them: "explore! create! explore! create!" Try to get things they shouldn't have out of reach and then they can do both of these without a problem.

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  18. "Hurry." I am trying not to rush my children...I watched my daughter play with her dolls and the mommy doll was telling the kids to "hurry, hurry" as they got into the play car. Ugh! I recently resigned and will begin homeschooling. ...I was rushing them in the morning to get ready for school/daycare and then rushing them when we got home for dinner and homework and baths and bedtime...that one little word made such an impact on their young lives.
    kellylee@wi.rr.com

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    1. I struggle here too. I get very impatient when we are "running behind" even though I KNOW I'm the grown up--the only perons capable of time management whatsoever. If I start earlier, things always go smoother.

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  19. The phrase I currently need to eliminate is "that's enough", which I tend to use when my daughter has been whiny or cranky. It REALLY doesn't help her to feel better or stop whining and in fact it often escalates our argument. I've been trying to catch myself when I'm about to say it and remove myself from the situation to cool down because what it really means is that I'VE had enough.

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    1. Perfect example! Definitely set limits before you are at yours! Then remmebr that sometimes they just have to dump out a big mess of feelings. This is totally normal and actually desired--it helps their systems to regulate!

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  20. Okay there are so many..."good job", "hurry", "you're fine", "don't, don't don't" I honestly feel much better just by reading the other comments:) I love how God opens my eyes and gently shows me other ways to parent (by me reading this blog)! I never really put any thought to the way I talk to my kids until I read this post. I will be making a better effort at how I respond to my children. Sounds like a wonderful, helpful book!
    jennsommerville@hotmail.com

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    1. Respond is the perfect word. Remember that you have to stay recharged and refreshed to be able to respond instead of reacting--that is all of our default settings. You would love my book!

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  21. We are working on "Good job" and "don't do that" right now, it seems i use them the most when i've had a bad day but, it's gettin better.

    Jess C.
    jess.n.collins@quacksandwaddles.com
    http://www.quacksandwaddles.com

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  22. I try very hard to not say "don't cry" to my kids. I want them to always know that I care and empathize with them about whatever's happened. Big emotions are okay at our house!

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  23. I'm trying to stop sighing. I tend to over-vocalize my emotions, I suppose thinking that I can get them to understand that I'm frustrated or even angry. I have recently found that I can just say how I'm feeling without blaming them and that's way better for all of us.

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  24. Coming from a teaching background I am very conscious of what I say... At least I think I am. I do disagree with the blanket dismissal of some phrases (I like the phrase "good job") but I agree with the dismissal of others (I won't say things to try to make a child stop crying - just hugs and kisses and calm words until they are ready).

    I would love a copy so I could see what the author thinks. I welcome the chance to identify other phrases that I might need to stop using.

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  25. Trying really hard to stop saying "good boy". Really hard. xx

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  26. Congratulations to the giveaway winner, Momma in Progress!

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