The Importance of Positive Language for a Child’s Self-Perception

The concept of positive reinforcement can have a dramatic impact on how a child views the world. Positivity is, perhaps, the greatest tool we as parents, caregivers and early childhood educators have regarding the on-going mental health of a child.

Low self-esteem is a growing problem around the world. As we understand more about the mystery of the human brain, so it becomes evident that negativity has more than a fleeting consequence. Indeed, the use of negative language during a child’s formative years can have an ever-lasting effect on a person’s self-perception.

Language Matters: Positive breeds positive

Consider these two similar scenarios:

  1. Your child is throwing a ball in the house, despite you telling them multiple times not to. Somewhat exasperated, you use an angry tone to tell them to “stop throwing balls in the house”
  2. The same situation, but instead of issuing an order, you say, “Why don’t you take the ball outside and play with it?”

The difference in wording is pronounced. Scenario 1 invites conflict. Scenario 2, on the other hand, presents a solution.

Another example of turning a negative phrase into a positive might be by saying, “How about filling this bucket with sand”, as opposed to “stop throwing the sand”.

Such different wording might seem very small but if this positive affirmation concept is used constantly, the difference it creates in how a child views the world, those around them and, consequently, themselves, can be truly dramatic.

Negativity Invites Conflict

The word ‘don’t’ implies that a child is doing something wrong. Children aren’t born to misbehave (OK, they might like to push the boundaries sometimes), but it’s our reactions to unwanted behaviours that shape how a child reacts. Positive affirmation – in other words, recognition for doing something right – has a far more powerful effect on continuing to do so than being told bluntly to “stop doing that”.

Positive language (not to mention tone and body language – but more on that in a moment) shows a child that you believe in them, their abilities and intentions. The earlier a child is exposed to such stimulus, the less likely they are to be combative and, very importantly, to perceive themselves as a person who’s always making the wrong choices.

Positive Language is Conveyed in Many Different Ways

The words we use to address our children are, of course, vital. But once you’ve got your head around phrasing in a positive manner it’s also important to remember how much we communicate in a non-verbal way. This includes:

  • Tone: How we say something is as important as what we say. Try to ensure an even tone when asking a child to carry out a desirable behaviour, rather than sounding angry or irritated.
  • Volume: If you need to ask your child to keep their voice down, consider the irony if you raise your voice to ask them to do so. Contrary to popular belief, shouting doesn’t command attention. If anything, speaking in a lower tone whereby a person has to stop what they’re doing to hear what you say, is far more beneficial.
  • Watch your body language: Admittedly, this can be tricky at times – we’re all human, after all, and each of us has our own external stresses that might make us more irritable than normal. However, body language is a vital communication tool – open gestures and a friendly expression all convey the positive message that we’re trying to portray.

Positive Children Become Positive Adults

Recognition for doing something right is the best reward any caregiver can give a child. It’s something we all strive for, and children who’re exposed to this during the early years are far more likely to mimic this behaviour themselves.

Another example of how you might instil this in your child might be along the lines of:

“Tommy, that’s fantastic. You’ve remembered to walk down the stairs instead of running.”

The message this communicates is far different than saying to him, “Tommy, I’m watching you. Don’t you dare run down the stairs”.

Not only does the former negate any conflict between you, but it also communicates that you believe in Tommy and his ability to make the right choices. Every time this happens, Tommy gets further affirmation that helps mould a healthy self-esteem.

The Importance of Choosing a Childcare Location that Embraces Positive Reinforcement

Many of us rely on childcare facilities to look after the most precious members of our family. Ensuring that they too believe in the power of the positive means that even when they’re not under your protective wing, you’re assured that the good work you’re carrying out at home is being further enforced, therefore continuing the journey to your child’s ongoing great mental health and positive self-esteem.

At Nido Early Learning Centre all of our staff truly believe in the power of positivity. We encourage caregivers and parents to drop in (we operate an open door policy) and see our educators in action.

Visit to discover your nearest centre and come and see for yourself.