Say This, Not That: A Guide for Parents

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Cute little boy talking with his father while sitting on picnic blanket with food on the side. Son having conversation with his dad at picnic.

As a parent, sometimes it feels like we’re always saying the wrong thing to our kids. Whatever we say, it seems to make the situation worse. Do you ever wish there was a guide to tell you what to say to kids?

If you have a constant battle figuring out what to say to your kids, you are not alone. Parents everywhere are right there with you. Thankfully, we have a guide to help you figure out what you can say that will hopefully help the situation.

At Twin Cities Kids Club, we strive to help you in your parenting journey. Besides offering tips and encouragement, you can also join the club and get access to discounts throughout the Twin Cities.

Loving worried mom psychologist consoling counseling talking to upset little child girl showing care give love support, single parent mother comforting sad small sullen kid daughter feeling offended

Why Language is Essential

It might seem a small thing, but what we say (and how we say it) is critical when it comes to our children. As the adults in the situation, it is our job to set the tone. If you are uneasy, mad, flustered, or something else, it will reflect in how you deal with your kids.

One way to think about how you talk to your children is considering how it would sound played back to you. If someone were to record you speaking to your children, would you hear kind and supportive words? Or would the words you hear tear down your child and make it hard for them to respond positively to you?

There are many reasons to use supportive and helpful language with your children.

  1. Your kids will listen better. It makes total sense; think how you respond to people. Do you respond better when you are spoken to politely and respectfully or when you’re yelled at? This doesn’t mean you should avoid confrontation, rather handle disagreements calmly and with helpful words. 
  2. Harsh words aren’t effective. Yelling or loud words are not more likely to get you results. Furthermore, if your child comes to expect that reaction from you, it could harm your relationship going forward.
  3. You kids learn from you! If your child hears you yelling and sees you out of control, they will emulate that behavior. If you don’t want to see your child doing it, don’t do it yourself. Your child might also treat other authority figures in their life similarly. Imagine hearing about a small version of yourself in a parent-teacher conference!

It is definitely not the easiest to remain calm and composed when your child has made you very mad or frustrated. It’s essential to remember that it is OK to take a 20-30 minute breather before dealing with the situation. 

Make a point to plan out rules or guidelines for dealing with frustration and anger as a family. If everyone knows that the only way to speak to each other is when everyone is calm, your kids will learn how to wait until they have their emotions under control.

It is also important to remember that your child’s brain is vastly different than yours. Kids are very literal. Because they are literal, they will respond to questions, comments, and demands differently than an adult would.

For example, don’t ask a question when you are not actually giving your child an option. Rather than saying, “can you do this?” say, “I need you to do this.” 

Many kids are unable to break down loaded or complicated questions. A common phrase for us might be complicated to answer for a young child. Be specific in your words and what you want to know.

Wording and tone are vital when trying to elicit a particular response from your children.

Cute girl and her handsome father are talking and smiling at home

Say This, Not That…

So, you might be wondering how you should phrase things to your kids if the wording is so important. We have a list of easy things you can say to your kids that will help situations go smoothly.

It might seem overwhelming and hard to fathom using all of these phrases. That’s OK! Choose one or two that seem realistic and achievable to you, write them on a sticky note, and put them in your kitchen or a place where you will see them a lot. Focus on fixing those phrases first, then move on to other ones.

Instead of saying, “How was school?” Say this, “What was the best part of your day at school?”

Instead of saying, “Are you hungry?” Say this, “Would you like a banana or crackers for a snack?”

Instead of saying, “Come here now.” Say this, “Please stand close to me, so I know where you are.”

Instead of saying, “Clean up your mess.” Say this, “You can have (this thing you want) after you have cleaned up this room.”

Instead of saying, “Calm down, don’t cry.” Say this, “I see you’re upset, can we count to 10 together to calm down?” (or try yoga with your kids to calm them down!)

mom with a little daughter in the kitchen. the girl tells something and mom listens carefully to her

Instead of saying, “Why are you crying?” Say this, “I see you’re sad, would you like to talk about it?”

Instead of saying, “Why would you do that?” Say this, “I understand you wanted (this item), but you didn’t ask nicely.”

Instead of saying, “Good job!” Say this, “I’m very proud of how hard you worked to get (this thing) done!”

Instead of saying, “Don’t talk to me in that way.” Say this, “I understand you are upset, but you are not allowed to speak to me in a rude way. Please use a calm voice when you are speaking to me.”

Instead of saying, “Be careful.” Say this, “Please use both hands.” 

Instead of saying, “Stop fighting with your brother!” Say this, “Let’s find a way for you and your brother to work this out.”

Instead of saying, “What’s going on with you?” Say this, “I see something is bothering you, can we talk about it?”

Instead of saying, “You’re grounded!” Say this, “I am very frustrated and need some time to figure out the consequences of your actions. I will talk with you more later.”

Remember, let your no be no. Children will naturally push the limits. As long as you’re “humoring” them by continuing to discuss it, they will keep whining and asking. Don’t be afraid to say, “I gave you my answer; it is not changing.” Once you say this, you have to hold firm. Do not keep negotiating.

family, relationships and trust concept - father talking to his sad little son at home in evening

Don’t forget to join Twin Cities Kids Club today for access to local events and discounts!

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