5 Crucial Things to Say to Your Child—and 5 to Avoid
As mothers, our words have power. They can build up our children, teach them to love themselves and others, or tear them down, and teach judgement and intolerance. So, as mothers, we have the collective responsibility to be mindful of those words; to use them for good.
Abbie Schiller and Samantha Kurtzman-Counter are both childhood communication experts, and the founders of The Mother Company, a media studio that redefines screen time to tackle today’s most important issues.
Today, they put pen to paper to help guide us as mothers on how to speak constructively, peacefully and meaningfully to our kids.
Want to raise good humans?
Here’s their five things to say, and five things not to say to your little ones
1. “I love you.”
You really can’t say this too much. But this phrase is especially helpful when your child has failed in some way.
2. “I’m sorry.”
Parents aren’t perfect. When we lose it, we should own it. Saying “I’m sorry,” when we’ve yelled, failed or been unfair, shows them that we are human and models the kind empathetic behavior we expect from our children.
3. “Why do YOU think?”
To all the million times they ask you “why?” ask them back why THEY think mice are small or we hold hands across the street or whatever their “why?” question is. It gets them to start to process the answers, builds their confidence and inspires them to be more self reliant.
4. “I noticed…”
As parents we are used to boosting our kids’ confidence with an all-too-regular “good job.”
But kids know authentic compliments from generic ones and it loses its meaning (and makes them doubt you’re paying any attention at all.)
Instead try, “I noticed” and then notice something. For example, “I noticed how much time you are spending on this drawing,” or “I noticed that you washed your hands without me even asking.”
You can also notice the absence of unwanted behavior, “I noticed you didn’t take your sister’s toy, even thought you wanted it.” All this helps build a solid and clear narrative for your child and reinforces the positive behavior the you expect.
5. “Five minute warning!”
Transitions can be hard for kids.
Giving children a five minute warning helps them to prepare for the next transition from a playdate, or school, or to bath and bedtime. With these warnings (and I often remind them at two and one minutes too), you are helping children wrap up their projects and mentally prepare for what’s next. This, of course, can help lessen resistance and tantrums when those transitions occur.
5 things not to say to your child
1. Don’t compare.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister,” inspires no one, creates competition and animosity and achieves the opposite of the result you were hoping for (cooperation).
2. Don’t shame.
I once read that shame is the most powerful arsenal in the parenting tool house that is abused by most parents. Shame makes children either feel badly about themselves or badly about you, the parent. And the weight of it can become internalized for years. Never use it.
3. Don’t overly praise.
“You’re the best!” “Good job!” “So awesome!”
Everything is not at the same level of awesome, so accurately praising children versus over-praising them will help them trust your feedback, lessen their inflated senses of selves and actually help them feel more comfortable taking risks. A good thing!
4. Don’t call them your BFF.
Children need you to be their parent, not their bestie.
Confusing friendship with parenting is to set yourself (and your children) up for relationships with confusing boundaries. Best friends are people you confide in, turn to in need and can count on. These are not roles you should expect of your children so why call them that? You choose your friends, not your family. So while the intent may be to allude to closeness and love, the actual term is just plain inappropriate.
5. Don’t be mean.
The rule should be, “Don’t do anything to your kids that you wouldn’t want a stranger to do to your kids.”
This includes rough handling, spanking, teasing, mocking, and any other behavior that comes from anger and/or resentment.
Raising children is difficult! If you need to take a break from your kids before you explode at them, do it. Your children are watching and learning from you. If you are mean, they will likely learn that behavior too – which will lead to a slew of unwanted behavior. Instead, remember that kindness, love, compassion, and communication are keys to earning cooperation and respect. Both ways.
Founder Samantha Kurtzman-Counter shares:
How do you make your mornings run smoothly?
I find that the only way to make mornings less stressful is to make expectations for the morning very clear. The kids are expected to have A,B, and C done every single morning without fail: teeth brushed, snack packed, socks and shoes on and dogs fed – or whatever you’ve outlined as their morning jobs. And then it’s really about NOT NAGGING them to get their jobs done, but rather, trusting that they will do them. And if they don’t, there’s a consequence.
The very thing that drives me crazy in the morning (having to nag and push repeatedly over and over) is exactly the precedent that we are setting for the morning routine by nagging and pushing! If your kids are really little, lay out their clothes the night before, or make a chart to show the things they have to do and then they get to check them off every morning and feel that accomplishment. After all, what they really want most is approval from us, so if they meet our expectations, that feels pretty darn good. And make sure to reinforce that behavior by noticing and appreciating it.
The lifehack or tip that has changed my life. . .
“Special Time” really changed my relationship with my son. Whenever he is being frequently difficult or acting out a lot, I know it’s time to get back to Special Time.
Basically, it’s just 10-15 minutes of undivided attention given to your kid. And make a huge deal out of it: “I will not even LOOK at my phone! I won’t even answer the door if someone knocks!” And just let your kid guide the play for that time, without you setting the agenda. I find that when we are really practicing Special Time, things always get better with my boy’s behavior. He just wants to make sure he is truly my priority, and that I’m really seeing and hearing him. Special Time is a really easy way to make that clear.
What superpower have you discovered as a mom?
I think I have an extraordinarily overdeveloped Empathy gland! I feel like my boy has really opened up my heart and made it evident that I have the power to listen and truly understand the needs of others deeply. Like never before.
This quote inspires me. . .
“There’s always a bag of beans at the end of the rainbow.”
Ok, I made that one up—but to me it means that it’s important to not only strive to reach your goals but to also always remember that the striving is often the best part. We all need to be sure to celebrate the small victories and enjoy the journey – because there’s always going to be another bag of beans to carry when you get to the end.
To me Motherly means…
Providing a warm, secure, non-judgmental and perpetual space for growth.
Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby and bestembroiderymachinegreviews.com creator of the ultimate bamboo baby carrier. She is a regular contributor to Motherly and is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.