Declarative Language | Better Communication with our Kids

How can changing the way you talk with your kids improve your relationship – and build an even stronger connection? Tiffany Brown explains.

Parenting can sometimes feel like issuing an endless list of requests, questions, and demands, often in that precise sequence: “Can you get ready to go, please.”

“Are you ready to go yet? Get ready now. We have to go!”

This familiar escalation can quickly bring the household into chaos: Weeping kids, flustered caregivers… In this particular scenario, everybody is at odds with each other before the day has properly begun.


Above are all examples of imperative language, useful for functional purposes, but – given a distinct lack of nuance – also a quick way to negate any positive behaviour guidance that may have taken place prior. Imperative language demands a prescribed response; in the case of our example above, the only acceptable “correct” answer is “Yes, I’m ready.” There’s no room for the child to make any other response that won’t spell some degree of trouble or disappointment on the part of the parent.

Parenting experts advocate the use of declarative language as a key way to achieve desired outcomes without resorting to old-fashioned methods of raised voices, threats, bribery, shaming, or punishments.


Declarative statements are simple invitations to children to share an experience, and they could be a game-changer in your home. Its most effective use for improving communication with children is through casual, neutral observation, and in so doing, the encouragement of a child’s own critical thinking pathways. In short, using declarative language can be a masterful way to lead children to their own logical conclusion.

It all sounds far preferable to the on-autopilot, broken-record way of polarising into “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” by forcing them to respond one way or the other to our demands and instructions, doesn’t it?

Like anything, it may take time, repetition, and patience for declarative language to kick in and be effective, and it will depend on the age of your child. That said, you may see immediate benefits from a switch from imperative to declarative language, especially for determined kids who have become used to hearing imperative instructions from morning to night.


Here are some guidelines for implementing declarative language:

  • Try to remain calm and neutral when you talk to your child. The goal is to stimulate their own thinking brain, rather than flip them into a flight/fight/freeze state or trigger them by our own feelings of frustration, eagerness, or hyper-awareness.
  • Think about issuing invitations instead of asking questions. Say “Let’s read a book together.” instead of “Would you like to read a book?”
  • Statements encourage a child to engage their own logical thought processes. Saying, “I notice you haven’t cleaned your teeth yet” creates an opportunity for thoughtful consideration, rather than commanding, “Clean your teeth!”
  • Observational self-narratives are an example of modelling, like saying, “I’m going to the bookshelf to look at the books.”
  • Turn a question into a statement. “Why aren’t you ready for school?” could become “We’re walking to school today. I think you’ll need your walking shoes on.”
  • Try turning directions into an observation. “Stop doing that to your sister!” could become “I don’t think that makes your sister feel very happy.”

Words to use

  • When you’re practising using declarative language, include plenty of the following:
  • Verbs relating to our thinking processes, like wonder, know, imagine, remember, forget.
  • Observational, sense-related words, like hear, see, smell, feel, notice.
  • First person pronouns, like I, we, us.
  • Statements to communicate emotions, like I feel, I like, I don’t like, I’m not sure.
  • Words of possibility/uncertainty: Maybe, might, sometimes, possibly, perhaps.

Benefits of using declarative language

  • Helps to develop self-regulation and self-control.
  • Provides information over commands; helps to develop cognitive reasoning and critical thinking.
  • Empowers a child and validates their experiences and emotions.
  • Encourages problem-solving and develops executive functioning skills.
  • Focusses on teaching over quizzing; helps to develop the child’s inference, visual referencing, and observational skills.
  • Helps to develop an inner voice.
  • Teaches kids how to self-advocate.
  • Provides scope for children to discover mistakes in a neutral, rational way; avoids blaming and shaming.
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