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Our parents always told us not to gossip. Teachers reprimanded us. Friends would ditch us if they knew we were talking behind their backs. TV created a whole series on the perils of gossiping.
But when you become a parent to a toddler, throw out any preconceived notion you have ever had of gossiping because gossiping is about to become your best friend. In fact, gossiping is one of the best positive parenting strategies I have undercovered as a mom.
What is gossiping?
Gossiping is exactly what you know it to be - talking about someone. However, when it comes to our little ones, this time we are going to do whatever it takes for them to hear us.
Yes, you heard that right, you want your toddler to overhear you talking about them while pretending that you don't even notice they are there. I'm talking about doing your best exaggerated whisper yell, hands cupped to your mouth, most dramatic imitation of gossiping possible to whomever or whatever (Daddy, a stuffed animal, a toy)
But here is the catch. You are not not going to drone on about all the things they did wrong. You are going to reiterate what they did well by using concrete examples.
"Psstttt, Teddy, guess what Henry did today? When Mr. Dinger went off, Henry went straight upstairs to get ready for bed without even crying!!! Can you believe that? Should we clap for Henry?"
This doesn't mean that you should avoid all mentions of any negative behavior your toddler does. You just want to put the focus on building your child's self-esteem while focusing mostly on the positive.
Why gossiping works?
I first heard of this strategy from the book, "The Happiest Toddler on the Block," by Dr. Harvey Karp. Dr. Karp says that gossiping "green lights" good behavior. He goes on to say that gossiping should start around 15-18 months. Why?
It's the same for adults. What do you prefer more: Your husband directly telling you that you are doing a good job as a mom or you overhearing your husband bragging about what a good mom you are to his parents? I would bet that most people would choose the latter.
That is because a direct remark to your face could be considered just a nice remark that he has to tell you because he is your husband, but the fact that he said it to someone else not in your presence must mean he really means it!
Toddlers feel the same way. If it's being whispered as a secret, Mommy must really mean it. It must be important, and I should pay close attention.
Gossiping fills up a toddler's self-esteem cup. It's hard being a toddler. They are often told "no" or they are forced to stay in very strict boundaries. Overhearing all the things they did right makes them confident in themselves and more likely to continue doing those actions.
How I do gossiping with my son?
Gossiping can be done anytime throughout the day, but I make a point to especially do it before bed to recap the day.
While we are sitting in the rocking chair having finished reading our nighttime books, I make a point of noticing the teddy bear that sits on Henry's nightstand. I call him Gossip Bear.
"Psst...Hey Gossip Bear, come here. I need to tell you what Henry did today."
I bring the bear over and make a point to turn away from Henry and face the bear instead. I then proceed to whisper about some of the good things Henry did that day while sprinkling in one behavior that I would like to curb.
"When Mommy told Henry screen time was over, Henry only cried for a little bit. He then went over to play with his kitchen. I was thankful Henry did that. Henry also learned to put some of his toys away when it was time to clean up. That made me smile, Gossip Bear. However, Mommy wants Henry to stay in his pack-n-play at Grandma's house. No more climbing out. Henry needs to sleep, sleep in order to play later. He needs to stay in crib. No climbing out."
Henry's ear have perked by this point, and I can tell he is absorbing every word. It's rather cute if I do say so myself. Finally, I ask Gossip Bear if we should clap for Henry and we both do.
But we are not done. Gossip Bear has something to tell me. I make believe Gossip Bear is whispering something into my ear and then proclaim, "Of course, Gossip Bear, you can give Henry a kiss and hug goodnight." Gossip Bear walks over to Henry and in his own voice asks for a kiss and a hug which Henry is excited to give. The end and as simple as that.
Start using gossiping throughout the day whenever you see your kiddo doing something you want to encourage him to keep doing, and you will sure to see a transformation in behavior. Who said gossiping is always bad?
For more positive parenting strategies check out my new parenting guide Now What? Mindful Parenting Checklists for Life's Hard Moments.