As parents, how many times do we hear ourselves saying, “Use your words”? It’s universal. We all say. Some more often than others. But go to any park, play area, or Target dollar spot and you will hear it!

We recently had a major success with our toddler using her words. I’m going to share it with you know as well as how it could have gone.

Scene: the end of a super fun day at a family reunion. 3-year-old has been playing in a river or swimming pool for over 6 hours. No naps, no breaks. She has made new friends with second cousins and has had over a dozen grown ups who she only sees occasionally talk to her throughout the day. She has handled all of this like a champ and played her little heart out.
We are saying good-bye. My husband and I are taking our two girls around to hug everyone and say our good-byes. There are probably 25 adults to say good-bye to and a handful of kids.

Kid: I’m a little bit frustrated.
Mom (stops talking to adults and squats down to kid eye level): What are you frustrated about?
Kid: All the people.
Mom: Are you overwhelmed with so many people saying good-bye to you?
Kid (nods yes)
Mom: I need you to say thank you to our hosts, but other than that you can either walk with me and give high fives silently or you can go stand by the door and wave to everyone.
Kid (walks to door, waving emphatically)

My girl did not want to be in that situation. She was trying to escape the demand of saying a TON of good-byes. Would I prefer her to hug all my cousins, aunts, & uncles? Of course. Was it absolutely necessary? No. It was necessary for her to say thank you to the hosts of the day and she did that very nicely after I honored her appropriate request to escape. 

But what if I had made her continue with the parting salutations? What if I had carried her around to all those people? What if I hadn’t stopped and listened when she used her words? In future situations, she would be less likely to use her words and more likely to use undesirable methods to escape a situation she found uncomfortable. Not to mention the problem behaviors I would have been inviting to the end of our fun reunion day!

The key here is that I reinforced the appropriate response when it occurred in the natural environment.
I followed through when she used her words.
I celebrated the using of words.
​And in the future I will reap the benefits of a toddler who always uses her words! Yeah right. I WILL reap the benefits of her using the correct response of using her words more frequently.

*Also to note in this story- I took into consideration all those setting events described above. This kid was EXHAUSTED and pushed beyond her limits. She’d had great behavior all day with no routine, no nap, odd eating habits, you name it. Setting events matter!

Learn how to use positive behavior supports with your child in the book Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity!