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How to Use Positive Communication

Positive parenting and child development are connected. Discover ways to use positive communication, such as praise, imitation, description, and active listening, to interact with your child.


Good communication between you and your child is important for developing a positive relationship. As your child gets older, good communication will make it easier for you to talk to him about things like alcohol and drugs. Good communication with your child can start early. Two skills that are helpful for good communication with toddlers and preschoolers are praise and active listening. You will learn more about these skills in this section.

Help Your Child Learn Positive Behavior!

All children misbehave or engage in challenging behavior sometimes. How you handle your child’s misbehavior can make a big difference in how your child behaves throughout her life.

Treating your child with kindness and respect will help her treat others with kindness and respect. You are modeling positive relationships.

You can take steps to teach your child positive behaviors!

How to Nurture Your Child

  •  Listen to your child

  •  Respond to your child’s needs

  •  Remain calm

  •  Don’t expect your child to be perfect

  •  Model appropriate behavior—including saying sorry

        if you need to

How to Nurture Yourself

  •  Take care of yourself

  •  Take a break when you need it—if your child is safe

  •  Don’t expect yourself to be perfect


Taking a moment each day to think about how your communication and behavior affect the infants, toddlers, and adults you interact with is a powerful way to develop your awareness and responsiveness. Think about how your personal interactions might affect your relationships. For example, how do your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body posture communicate messages to the people around you?

Praise your child

Keys to Communicating with Your Child

  1. Praise your child when she does something right. The more you praise a behavior, the more likely it is your child will behave the same way again.

  2. Pay attention to your child when he is talking to you or trying to communicate with you. Giving him your full attention will help you understand what he is telling you. It will also make him feel like you care about what he has to say.

  3. Set aside time each day to talk and play with your child. Creating a special time lets your child know she is important. It also strengthens the bond between the two of you.

Responding to Good Behavior

Attention from you and other caregivers is important to your child. In fact, toddlers and preschoolers demand A LOT of adult attention.

Attention can be both positive and negative. Positive attention is used to show your child he has done something you like. Positive attention includes things like praise, hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and high-fives. Negative attention lets your child know you do not like what he has done. Negative attention includes things like scolding, correcting, and yelling. Let’s take a look at an example of positive and negative attention.

Responding to Good Behavior

If your child runs away, you yell at him, “Come back here, now!”

Positive Attention

If your child waits by your side, you might say, “Thank you for being patient and staying by me.”

Negative Attention

If your child runs away, you yell at him, “Come back here, now!”

Praise and Limitation


Praise happens when you give positive attention to your child

for something good. It is helpful in improving young children’s

behavior, strengthening the parent-child relationship, and

increasing communication.

Why is Praise a good tool to use?

Praise lets your child know what behaviors you like. When you praise behaviors you like, your child will do those behaviors more often. Praise can also help your child feel good about herself.


Specific praise works best because your child knows exactly what you like. This type of praise is called labeled praise. Unlabeled praise is a general statement that shows approval or affection. Unlabeled praise can help children feel good but does not help improve behavior. It doesn’t let your child know exactly what is liked.

Unlabeled Praise

Great Job!
Way to go!

Labeled Praise

What a great job of putting your toys away!
You did a super job making your bed!
Way to go sharing with your brother!

Praise Tips

  • Sometimes labeled praise is best when it is not expected. If your child is playing quietly in the living room while you are cooking dinner, take the time to let him know you like it. You might say, “It’s so nice when you are playing quietly all by yourself while I am trying to cook dinner!” This will send a message to your child that you are paying attention.

  • Hugs, high-fives, a pat on the head, or a pat on the back along with a labeled praise can give more power to your praise.

  • Some parents notice their child’s behavior gets worse when being praised. 

  • Some parents find it difficult to find things to praise about their child’s behavior. 


You imitate your child’s behavior when you copy or mimic what she is doing. This means that you play with the same or a similar toy and attempt to use the toy like your child is using it. Imitation helps provide positive attention to improve behavior, your relationship, and communication with your child.

Why is Imitation a good tool to use?

Any behavior you imitate is likely to be repeated by your child. When you imitate your child’s play, you show her you are paying attention and like what she is doing.  Imitation can help a child feel good about herself and gives you a lot of chances to give positive attention.

Imitation Tips
  • When imitating your child, match your actions to your child’s activity. Try not to do it better or faster, which could discourage your child and make her feel bad about herself.

  • Whatever you imitate will likely occur again. It is best to model or demonstrate positive or appropriate behaviors and imitate things your child is doing that you like. If you imitate behavior or words that are not appropriate, your child is more likely to say or do those things again. Inappropriate behaviors and words can be ignored if they are not dangerous for her or anyone else or destructive. If your child is doing something that is dangerous or destructive, stop those behaviors immediately.

Content Source:

Head Start / Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center.  Head Start and Early Head Start programs promote children's development through services that support early learning, health, and family well-being.

Researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, economists, communicators, educators, technologists, epidemiologists and many other professionals all contribute their expertise to improving public health and is a major component of the Department of Health and Human Services and is recognized as the nation’s premiere health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency.

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