18. Discipline for children: using ‘magical language’ to guide

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(read about the adventure here)

discipline for children

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Tip 18: Discipline for children:

what is ‘magical language‘ and how to use it.


When I used to think about discipline for children many, many years ago, it was all about doing something after the fact. But what I’ve learned most of all as a parent and teacher is that preventative strategies actually work much better!  And one of the best preventative strategies is this technique of using what I call ‘magical language’.  I wish I had known about it much earlier. I wish it had been instinctive for me. (Alas, it wasn’t.) But I sure am grateful I learned it sooner rather than later. I love this technique so much, but it almost can’t be called a ‘technique’- it is simply a way of speaking to your child in a way that THEY understand and are motivated, rather than speaking AT them in the way that I, as an adult, have learned to converse. (I love it so much I wrote about it as part of my top 10 creative behaviour management strategies in my book.)  Here’s a little taster of what magical language is, and what it can do for you too.

Magical language is a way of inviting children to engage in a task/activity/job they must do, with a hint of playfulness and joy so that the children actually want to join in the fun, and often do not see the task as arduous or something put upon them by an adult. It also invites us to become creative, and come up with words or sentences that add humour to a situation, or find quotes we can adopt for our own means.

Here’s a few examples for you:

1.Special delivery“.  One of my son’s teachers is a master at this, adding a spoonful of sugar, an ‘element of fun’ as Mary Poppins would say to many of her instructions. When she needs a child to carry something from place to place, or to put something away (a toy, a block, a bowl, a dish…), or take something to someone, she will gently but firmly place the thing in the child’s hand and say ‘Special Delivery‘.  The child is then guided by a gentle hand on the back in the direction of the room, locker or kitchen to drop off their ‘parcel’. Without fail, the child does the job happily, carrying the precious cargo to its rightful destination.

2“We are brave fellows, are not we?”   Whenever my son is a little nervous or unsure, I take his hand and bolster both his and my confidence with this saying that I came across in a piece of writing many years ago.  It’s become our little mantra, and now when we arrive somewhere new or unfamiliar, or go to do something for the first time, he’ll repeat it back to me. (He’ll often take my hand first.) I love that a little recognisable and customary saying can become something so much more just because of the way you use it. 

3. “Now children, let us eat, drink and be merry”   I do love a good ol’ ‘introduction’ at mealtimes. I’m not fussy whether it is a blessing, or a prayer, or grace, or something fun and creative. I just adore how a few words can ‘frame’ the mealtime and set the scene for a glorious family time of togetherness, rather than simply shovelling food into our mouths without thought or forbearance (self control/self restraint).  

4. “Time for the artist/carpenter/builder/cook to put down his/her tools for the day”  When we frame our requests or demands in such a way that the children see it as part of a game or play, they are much more likely to do as we ask, without too much grief or hassle.  This way of speaking was NOT a natural thing for me at all (as it is for some people) and I had to learn to see the world through the young child’s eyes before I really grasped the power and magnitude of this potential for diffusing and smoothing sometime difficult transition moments in the day. But it was a worthwhile study, as I now tend to frame my instructions or requests like this most of the time without even thinking about it. Speaking in this way has BECOME natural for me, and, if isn’t yet, it can become natural for you too.  All it requires is practice and a little pre-thought. Begin by ‘naming’ what the children are doing/playing. (I’ve plenty more concrete examples of this in my book too.)

5. “You sparkle like a star”   I like similes. And sometimes I find myself using them in ‘magical language’ moments. This is one I find myself using with Ned when he is just being super glorious and loving- when his personality just shines. A sweet comparison like this is a little less ‘ego’ than saying something like, ‘You are the best/fastest/smartest/handsomest’ too.  Everyone and anyone can ‘sparkle’ if they so choose!  But this is just one sweet tiding I use. (I have a few faves up my sleeve.) I bet you can come up with some other really gorgeous statements, compliments or ‘bouquets of love’ to use with your family members too.  



Today, you are going to write a list of some possible helpful ‘statements’ or sentences for a difficult or problem area you have when trying to motivate or move your kids to action. Perhaps it is when eating dinner, or packing away their toys, or finding their shoes, or separating from you at bedtime. Brainstorm and write your ideas down.  Memorise anything you think might be particularly helpful!

Another tip: Can you ‘story-ise’ your situation by coming up with some similar themes or a familiar book and using this metaphor for change?


Action required:

Practise, practise, practise.  See what works for you!


Commit to the task by writing it down here in the comments below, or in your 30 days of AWESOME journal. 


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