Gossip is one of my favorite ways to promote positive behaviors in children. Unlike a traditional discipline technique for your tot, this one is meant to encourage good toddler behavior—so you can stop misbehavior before it starts.

Promoting Positive Behavior by Gossiping

Gossip, in this case, means saying things out loud near your child, so they overhear. It works so well because all of us (kids and adults) are more likely to believe something if we overhear it than if it’s told directly to us. Gossip makes your praise five times more effective. (And it makes your words of criticism have five times more impact too.)

For example, if a friend says, “You look beautiful,” you might just brush it off as a polite remark. But if you accidentally overhear her saying this to someone else, you’ll probably grin and take it to your heart. (After all, you overheard it, so it wasn’t said to butter you up!)

Not only do we tend to believe things we overhear, but when those comments are whispered—like a secret—we believe them even more. If your child overhears you say something positive about them, it can set a good behavior example for them to replicate, making them want to receive the praise again for their good behavior.

When and How to Start Gossiping Around Your Child to Promote Good Behavior

Gossiping is best used for toddlers once they have reached the age of 15 to 18 months. That’s when they begin to understand that people whisper when they’re saying something extra important.

To start, let your child overhear you praise them in a loud whisper.

One day Louise brought her 3-year-old to me for a sore throat. Rather than battling Turner to open his mouth, I used gossip. Leaning toward Louise, I loudly whispered, “I really like it when Turner opens his mouth and shows me his big lion teeth.” As I spoke, I cupped my hand next to my mouth, like I was telling a secret (I kept my fingers spread a bit to let him see my open mouth, so he knew what I wanted him to do). A few seconds later, when I switched on my light, Turner immediately opened wide…like magic!

With your toddler nearby, whisper some praise about her to someone else. You can whisper it to anybody—even a stuffed bear, or someone you pretend to be talking to on the phone. Don’t wink or look at your child when you do this. Gossiping only works when your kiddo thinks you don’t want to be overheard.

Cup your hand alongside your mouth and, in a loud whisper, say to the birdies outside, “Psst…hey, Mr. Birdie! Lauren ate all her peas! Yeah…every one!” Then turn back to your child like nothing happened and give her a little understated praise. “Good eating, Lauren!” Even if your tot doesn’t understand all your words, your admiring tone of voice will make her feel valued!

If your child leans in to listen, whisper more quietly…like you’re telling a juicy secret. For an older toddler, mumble some of the words so he can’t hear them all. This really makes it seem like you don’t want to be overheard. If he gleefully exclaims, “I hear you!” just say, “Oh, it’s nothing. I’m just talking to Mr. Birdie.” 

Later on, repeat the same compliment to someone else. Your child will be pleased and think, Wow, this must be true, because I’m hearing it a lot lately.

This gossip tactic is also useful for promoting positive toddler behavior when Mom is pregnant. It allows them see the special role they have to play as a big sibling, which can help calm jealousy. (See more tips about how to help a toddler adjust to a new sibling.) Plus, it sets the groundwork for them to be an amazing example for their little bro or sis. Who said “gossip” was a bad thing?

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.