Why Lecturing Kids Doesn’t Work: 5 Key Alternatives Kids Need

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Since you’ve landed here, you may already hav223e a hunch that lecturing kids doesn’t work. And yet you may find yourself continuing to do it.

If this sounds familiar, you’re certainly not alone! Lecturing happens among the most loving parents with the best of intentions.

Fortunately, there are 5 key alternatives far more effective in helping children to receive our support and guidance.

Why lecturing kids doesn't work: 5 surprising positive parenting tools that actually work!  By Such a Little While
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Lecturing kids doesn’t work… so why do I lecture?

First, let’s be clear that great parents often default to lecturing. Perhaps you are striving to avoid harsher parenting methods (e.g., spanking or yelling). You deserve to be commended!

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that lecturing often becomes a way for us to process our emotions. It’s a discipline tool that can quickly become more about ourselves than our kids.

While getting every last word out may feel good in the heat of the moment, the relief is only temporary. So often we discover our message hasn’t been received.

The BIG problem with lecturing kids:

They don’t hear us.

When we sense kids aren’t listening, it’s easy to let our words drag on and on in hopes they will finally “get it.”

In the words of Dr. Jane Nelson, “Children will listen to you after they feel listened to.”

Kids are simply not emotionally available for our redirection without a few key pre-requisites.

"listen first, talk last" quote by dr. jane nelson

If feelings are running high for your child when you begin lecturing, they are not capable of receiving information. The same goes for when they are overstimulated.

Imagine they are wearing a pair of “emotional earmuffs”!

when a child is in meltdown mode they are not emotionally available (yet) for our redirection by such a little while

Why long lectures are ineffective

Even when things have calmed down, children are unlikely to “hear” our words until they feel listened to and affirmed.

In addition, keep in mind that children in a calm state can generally listen for no more than a total of 2-3 minutes per year of age.

“So…how do you discipline a child that won’t listen?”

This is a common question I hear from parents after lectures fall flat.

First, let’s define the term “discipline.” Contrary to popular belief, the word discipline does not mean “to punish,” rather “to teach.”

Research shows fear-based or punitive discipline practices do not yield favorable results long-term.

Instead, when teaching becomes the goal, we empower kids to become collaborators in the problem-solving process.

Consequently, they are more internally motivated to change their behavior.

why lecturing kids doesn't work: true problem-solving with an upset child is never acheived through a power struggle
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    How do I talk to my child without lecturing?

    Once you swap lecturing with more effective positive parenting alternatives, you’ll notice one thing right away. You’ll be doing a lot LESS talking!

    Before we get into the “do’s”, let’s quickly touch on three big “don’ts” in terms of verbal communication.

    Why lecturing kids doesn’t work: 3 ineffective motivators

    #1 Repeated nagging

    Once you master the basics of positive parenting, this one will come naturally. You’ll be able to save your valuable words for when your child is best able to receive the information. Hence, less talking!

    #2 Too much detail on the “why” behind your boundaries

    Keep it short and sweet, particularly if you have a child under the age of 4. Young children have a tough time linking cause and effect, so this type of reasoning is unlikely to curb future behavior.

    #3 Asking kids “why” they did what they did

    Skip the “why would/won’t you’s.” These probes quickly put kids on the defense and can shut down the possibility of peaceful, collaborative problem-solving.

    Questions that never spark empathy: "Why would you do...", "Why didn't you...?", "Why would you want to hurt?" by Such a Little While

    Now that we know why lecturing kids doesn’t work, let’s dive into 5 key alternatives.

    5 Ways to Effectively Communicate Without Lecturing Kids

    1. Provide a supportive presence

    Perhaps the most important positive parenting tool is “connection before correction.”

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: may your hugs be longer than your lectures quote by such a little while
    The word “hug” here simply represents connection. Connection looks different for each child. You are the expert on your kiddo!

    For years, I worked as a school counselor and watched the same children move from grade level to grade level. One year, some were constantly sent to the office for “severe behavioral issues” then the next, seemingly thriving within the walls of their classroom, and so on!

    So what changed year-to-year? Their teacher and primary adult relationship at school. When kids feel genuine love, particularly in their most unlovable moments, they gain trust.

    Then with time, comes an ability to peacefully work together and problem-solve.

    You can learn 10 key ways to help kids feel loved and valued here.

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: 10 tools to help kids feel loved & valued

    2. Validate Feelings

    Think back to a recent bad day. Perhaps the internet went down just before your big deadline. Or maybe you spent all afternoon diffusing your toddler’s epic tantrums.

    Later, you just want to blow off some steam to your partner. Which response would you prefer?

    1. “Oh, that’s no big deal! You shouldn’t feel frustrated. You’re fine!”
    2. “Wow, are you serious? That sounds awful! What a frustrating day it’s been for you.”

    Human beings of all ages have an essential need to be seen and heard. A little validation goes a long way.

    Example: “I hear you really don’t want to clean up. We’ve been having so much fun with the dollhouse. It makes sense to feel angry about putting it away.”

    You can learn 10 key ways to validate children’s feelings (and read more response examples) here.

    why lecutring kids doesn't work: 10 key tips to validate big emotions by such a little while

    3. Maintain consistent and predictable boundaries

    Contrary to popular belief, positive parenting is not permissive parenting. Just because you validate your child’s emotions does not mean you should change your limits and boundaries.

    When boundaries are predictable, it’s much easier to skip lengthy lectures and nagging. When children consistently know what to expect, they’re less likely to push boundaries.

    Furthermore, we can rest assured that kids already know the “why” behind our static limits and boundaries. We don’t need to revisit it day after day.

    The easiest part: Our kids don’t have to be happy about it! Taking the time to listen and validate is far more important than trying to “convince” kids to agree with us.

    You can learn 10 key ways to create a daily routine with consistent boundaries here.

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: managing routines with toddlers by such a little while

    4. Invite kids to help find solutions

    Perhaps the biggest disserve we can do to our kids is solving all of their problems for them.

    Resist the temptation to lecture your child or tell them what they must to do solve the problem. Instead, consider what ideas they have first for making things right.

    This will not only give your child the opportunity to rise to the occasion but essential skills to overcome future challenges.

    Restorative Questions Magic

    As a school counselor, I learned 6 simple questions that changed my career. These Restorative Questions are incredibly helpful in motivating children to “make things right” following a misstep.

    1. What happened?
    2. What were you thinking of at the time?
    3. What have you thought about since?
    4. Who has been affected by what you have done?
    5. “In what way have they been affected?
    6. What do you think you need to do to make things right?

    [Questions developed by the International Institute of Restorative Practices]

    You can learn more about how to spark empathy with restorative questions here.

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: 6 must-know questions to spark empathy & remorse by such a little while

    5. Model that mistakes are opportunities for growth

    Childhood is the perfect time to make mistakes and learn from them.

    Why? Your child has your love and support to help them persevere through challenges and build new skills!

    A big difference between a traditional parenting lecture and the positive parenting approach is the time spent talking about the problem vs. the solution.

    By being solution-oriented, we can skip the “I told you so…” or “see why I said…” lecture, which fuels shame, rather than positive change.

    How to treat your child like the solution: rather than "why would you do that?", consider "we all make mistakes. I know you'll have some great ideas on how to make this right."

    When you join Such a Little While’s free 30-day positive parenting challenge, we’ll spend 3 days learning how to model growing through mistakes. You can learn more and sign up here.

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: curious about positive parenting? the free course busy moms love

    The last thing you need to know about why lecturing kids doesn’t work

    You know lecturing kids doesn’t work. But perhaps you find you continue to default to it despite your best efforts.

    If so, I challenge you to consider when you’re engaging in these conversations.

    If you find yourself disciplining in the heat of the moment, you likely need (and deserve!) more time to decompress.

    Fortunately, taking a needed break is not only allowed, but essential, in positive parenting! And you can even do so without sending your child to a punitive time-out.

    why lecturing kids doesn't work: the time-out alternative to feel good about! by such a little while

    Positive Parenting Time-Out Alternative

    The time-IN method (commonly referred to as a “calm down corner”) has changed the game for so many parents (myself included!).

    Why Lecturing Kids Doesn’t Work: Calm Down Corner Classroom Kit Printables by Such a Little While

    What if you and your child could take a break AND learn healthy coping skills along the way? Such a Little While has all of the step-by-step resources to help.

    I speak from my own personal parenting experience! Having a go-to response framework can make the world of difference in breaking old habits such as lecturing.

    If you’re looking for more in-depth support, I have your back. You can learn more about time-ins here.

    You got this!

    with love & kindness, Tana

    Tana, Mom & Founder, Such a Little While

    Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive discipline parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you make the most of every moment through effective positive parenting & social/emotional learning tools. Let’s dive in!

    2 thoughts on “Why Lecturing Kids Doesn’t Work: 5 Key Alternatives Kids Need”

    1. I love that you’ve given so many examples of words to use instead of long winded lectures! I think the validation component is huge and is sometimes a hard step to NOT skip when feelings are high! I know that I’m more reactive when I’m feeling rushed, as a parent, and can sometimes miss this validation step. If I don’t stop to check-in on his feelings (positive or negative), then his wall goes up and my words fall flat. This can be very frustrating. This is a great reminder to pause before I react and validate what’s going on in his head and heart FIRST! Thank you Tana for helping this mama out! I think I’ll even have my husband read this one, since he can lean towards the lecturing approach with our son.

      1. Thank you so much, Heather! I wholeheartedly agree that lecturing can so easily become our go-to without a consistent, conscious effort to connect! It sounds like your sweet boy has wonderful support from you with his feelings 🙂

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