I got a lesson in the effect of positive versus negative phrases on toddler behaviour last week.
It was one of those times when we let the girls run around instead of riding in their stroller on the +15 (An enclosed walkway around Calgary's downtown area). The day before, Sugar fell and spent the rest of the evening cradling her arm and saying "owie". To prevent a recurrence, we decided to start encouraging the girls to walk instead of running while on the +15...and that's when I noticed the power of words.
When we said "walk" the child being addressed would stop running and start walking.
When we said "don't run" the girls would ignore for a few seconds and you could see them mentally debating whether to comply or not.
Another example is at bedtime or any changing time actually. The baby not being changed is either trying to dismantle the humidifier or do head stands on the rocking chair. When I say "stop that" or "leave that", I get ignored with coy smiles. When I suggest an alternative activity "go sit on your chair and read your book", they comply more readily. Score for positive words.
I first read about how semantics affects toddler behaviour on Mandy E's blog last year and I found the concept intriguing. Seeing this very clear demonstration of how my choice of words influences my toddler's responses is definitely going to make me change the way I talk to the girls. My goal for now is to suggest acceptable alternatives to the unwanted behaviour. It's working so far.