The Placebo Effect, Hope, and the Power of Words

parenting tips- words have power

Written by Dr. John Carosso

What is the placebo effect?

A placebo is something that has no active therapeutic properties and is given to a patient to make them think they are getting the actual medication. The placebo effect is that some patients, interestingly, actually get better when given the placebo. Medications are compared to placebo because, if not better than placebo, then what’s the point.

What’s hope got to do with it?

If a person is given a placebo and gets better, then it could be argued that the power of hope is coming into play. The person is hoping the medication will work, and maybe even feels confident it will; consequently, they get better. I suppose you could say it’s ‘mind over matter’. The power of words instills hope, especially from somebody we trust, and powerful things can happen. There was a recent study showing that patients did better after discharge if the discharge summary had more positive words in it. What’s more, research has shown that the more confidence the patient has in their doctor, and the more the doctor emphasizes the placebo will work, the better the outcome.

Okay, so what?

So we all agree this is interesting, but what’s this got to do with helping your kids? We must keep in mind that the words we use have great power, can make a big difference in your relationship with your children, and how our kids behave.

Speak of what you want, not only of what you see

Your words shape your child’s behavior, for better or worse. So, be careful when calling your child “bad” or, less aversely, saying your child’s “behavior is bad”. Instead, consider stating the admonishment in a manner that positively highlights your child’s strengths while expressing clear expectations… “Mary, you often do really well getting along with your sister, and I appreciate how much you can be patient with her, so I know you can get along better than you are now, show me what you’re capable of…” Compare that statement to… “Mary, you’re always so bad and rude, you drive me crazy, you can never get along with your sister…” If you want to instill a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is the better way to go? Moreover, the latter statements leave everyone feeling down and miserable.

Similarly, you can enthusiastically talk to your child about how you’re looking forward to seeing him follow directions, clean-up, and get-along. Words have power, as do positive expectations, especially from somebody we really care about.

Some wonderful resources

Two excellent resources that provide examples of speaking to children in this firm yet positive way includes How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk. The other is Siblings without Rivalry that focuses on how to curb your kid’s fighting with one another and there are clever phrases to use with your kids that you’ll find very useful.

Making medication work

The same thing holds true in terms of making medication more effective. Explaining to a child how their medication is going to help and doing so with conviction and enthusiasm can go a long way to help increase the effectiveness of the medication.

Now go and instill some hope

Every time you speak to your child, be reminded to speak in a manor that instills hope, high expectations, clear expectations, and that you know they can rise to the occasion. You’ll feel better, and so will your kids. God bless.

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Dr. John Carosso

I work as a Child Psychologist, and School Psychologist in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania,specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, Behavioral Problems, Autism, Depression, Trauma, and Educational issues. I also provide in-home and in-school wraparound services.