From the very early days as a parent you have many chances to use positive words to describe your children.
The first thing you’ll probably be asked as a new parent is: ‘Is he a good baby?’
It’s hard to answer this question. A newborn’s behaviour is wired for survival, and isn’t about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
As your children grow, their behaviour is often scrutinised and judged by others.
Is she shy or outgoing? Is he stubborn or cooperative? Are they going through the ‘terrible twos’ or ‘horrible fives’?
Perhaps your memories of childhood are littered with the same words, used by your parents and teachers. Positive or negative, words stick with us and they become part of us.
The long-lasting and powerful effect of words highlights the importance of using positive words to describe our children.
Does language shape how we think?
Changing how people talk changes how they think, according to Lera Boroditsky in Scientific American.
One study she examines shows teaching people new words for colours changes their ability to discriminate between colours.
Another shows the very structure of the language we speak shapes our knowledge of basic concepts in space and time.
This also applies to parenting. The words we use to describe our children changes the way we perceive them, and even the way we feel about them.
Imagine, for example, your two year old toddler is having a tantrum because he doesn’t want to sit in the shopping trolley.
You can describe his behaviour two ways:
- Negative: he’s being a monster in the terrible twos
- Positive: he’s practising independence and has big feelings he can’t yet articulate.
How you describe his behaviour will determine how you feel about it, and how you respond to it.
Why use positive words to describe your children?
Just as importantly, the words we use can affect our child’s identity formation. Labels potentially have the power of self-fulfilling prophecy.
When you intentionally choose positive words to describe your children, you help them to form their identity – how they see themselves. This will affect them into adulthood, and influence how they speak to their own children.
Using positive words to describe your children has many benefits. It can:
- Build strong relational bonds
- Increase your child’s self esteem and confidence
- Help your child feel loved and valued
- Model a positive approach that children will mimic
- Create a safe space for children to express their feelings
- Contribute to your child’s strong inner voice.
All this can be challenging in the heat of the moment.
For practical words to use in response to your child in challenging situations, check out BellyBelly’s article 6 Things Not to Say to an Angry Child and What to Say Instead.
Jennifer Grant, mother of four and author of several books focused on parents and children, says:
“As a parent (and a writer), I care deeply about words and stories. It’s always been important to me to choose my words carefully and to be very intentional about the stories I tell my children about what I see in them.
“Sometimes what we say to our kids mirrors the way they see themselves. Sometimes it gives them an idea of the people they can become. Sometimes our words are a comfort, sometimes they are a challenge, but, to be sure, our words count”.
Describe your child in a paragraph
At the beginning of the school year, your child’s new teacher might ask parents to provide a written description of their children.
This exercise is intended to help the teacher understand the students’ learning style, motivations, and personal interests.
It’s also a great opportunity for parents to form a deeper understanding of their own children. For you, it’s a chance to look deeply and honestly at your child’s traits, and to frame them in a way that appreciates your child’s strengths and potential.
A few cues to help you get started on using positive words to describe your children:
- Find a quiet space, without your child nearby
- Bring your child to the front of your mind, and see what thoughts and memories arise
- What’s something people often say about your child?
- What’s something about your child that only you know?
- What makes your child unique?
- What are some of your child’s likes/dislikes, and why?
- What’s something your child has struggled with and overcome?
- What’s a challenge your child still has, and what helps him/her cope with it?
- What do you most want people to understand about your child?
How do I describe my child in a positive way?
Using positive adjectives to describe our children doesn’t mean we have to see only sunshine and rainbows. We can all agree raising kids is hard work, and some personalities are more difficult to manage than others.
But we know negative words get us stuck in negative thinking. This just makes parenting even harder.
A strengths-based approach helps us focus on the value and positive potential of each character trait. This means helping your children appreciate their strengths, and grow through their challenges or perceived weaknesses.
Father of three, Scott Barnett, uses this approach in teaching outdoor leadership at Simpson University and when parenting his kids.
He explains a recent time this approach came in handy:
“Recently, through a lot of struggle, my girls moved from some of the slowest in their swim class to some of the fastest.
“Initially I wanted to tell them I was proud of what great swimmers they had become. But I realized it didn’t matter if they were the slowest or fastest, and instead told them I told them I was proud that they were hard workers who stick with something even when it was difficult”.
Turning a negative into a positive
When a toddler throws himself on the floor in a tantrum, you could say he has anger problems. Or you can flip your perspective and say he’s overtired and overwhelmed.
A child who always has bandages and boo-boos can be called accident-prone or adventurous.
The teenager who constantly asks questions could be known as intrusive or inquisitive.
Any parent who has read the book Raising Your Spirited Child (I am raising my hand here) understands the very title is built to put a positive framework on a child’s behaviour.
The author, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, explains how she came up with the term spirited child:
“When my son, Joshua, was born, there weren’t any spirited child classes or books. In fact the only information I could find that described a child like him used words such as difficult, strong-willed, stubborn, mother killer, or Dennis the Menace.
“Yet I realized that Joshua was much like his father, a high-energy, sensitive, passionate, and prudent adult whom I love dearly. I realized that this child who could drive me crazy possessed personality traits that were actually strengths when they were understood and well guided”.
Much of our perception of our children’s behaviours hinges on understanding their developmental stage and their felt needs. Essentially, exploring the WHY behind their actions helps us see them in a sympathetic light instead of a critical one.
For more information on normal behaviour for each developmental stage of a child’s life, check out BellyBelly’s article Don’t Worry, It’s Normal! – A Quick Guide to Normal Behaviour for Babies, Kids, and Teens.
When I was school age, people often asked my mother why I was so shy. She answered matter-of-factly, “Because she likes to think before she speaks”.
Now as an adult, I hold on to that identity – the thinker rather than the shy girl.
With a little practice, we can find positive new ways to describe even the most challenging characteristics in our children. And as a result we will gain a new appreciation for who they are and what they do.
Have fun exploring our list of positive words to describe your children, and finding those that best fit your child.
50 positive words to describe your children: