These are some common statements parents say with the absolute best intentions at heart, but that send an underlying message to our children. When we tweak these common statements, we will find them to be more effective and more likely to get the results we want.
- When we say “Calm down”, it makes our child feel like we don’t care about what the are feeling, like their thoughts and feelings aren’t worthy. Instead empathize with what your child is feeling by saying something like “I can see you’re feeling upset.”
- “Stop crying” and “Don’t be a baby” tells your child to not express themselves. But it is completely normal and healthy to express your feeling. And when your child gets older, you want them to know that you’re a safe place for them to share their feelings and emotions. So instead try, “I can see why that would make you feel sad” or “I’m here for you” or “It’s ok to cry.”
- “You’re not old enough” sends the message that your child is not trustworthy or good enough yet. Instead try “I’m not ready for you to do that yet.” It makes it more about your feelings than about your child’s abilities.
- “You’re ok/fine.” Saying this dismisses your child’s feelings. Instead try empathizing and connecting by saying, “That was really scary upsetting, etc.” Or “Tell me about it.”
- Saying “Good job” and “Good girl/boy” focuses on external praise. We want to teach our children to be intrinsically motivated to do well and do what’s right. Instead encourage your child with a phrase like, “You did it!” or “Thank you for helping.” or “I really appreciate that.” Even better, get specific with your encouragement. Ex “We were able to get dishes cleaned up even faster because of your help.”
- “Be careful” sends the message that the world is a scary place. Instead teach your child to be aware of their surroundings by pointing out what you notice. Ex. “Notice how there’s a big rock you could land on.” You could also ask question to prompt their thinking and problem solving skills or offer suggestions on how to do it more safely.
- When you say “Stop that!” or “Knock it off!”, it feels very discouraging and will often create a power struggle between you and your child. Instead tell your child what you want them to do. Ex. “Please use gentle hands.”
- “It’s not that hard/scary. You can do it.” can feel like you’re dismissing your child’s feelings. Instead try an encouraging statement like, “You can do hard things.” Or “I have confidence you can do it.”