What not to say to your kids — and what you can say that’s better
Our kids know how to push our buttons, even buttons we didn't know we had. When that happens, it's easy to express our frustrations. But if we can use some self-control, we can flip the script and be much more effective in communicating with them what we want to see.
Parenting is tough work, and communication really is key. Effective communication helps keep our kids from tuning us out. Instead, we can learn to make our expectations clear, and we can actually build kids’ confidence to help them make better choices next time.
The big ideas are: When we are regularly negative with our kids, our kids can become more beaten down. When we're more positive, we can help them want to live up to our expectations. We can project onto them that they can do hard things, that they can do things well, and that they can make good decisions.
In short, we can be clear and direct about what we want to see. And, it’s better to focus on what we want and expect, than what we don't want. So, here are our four big “don’t says,” and what we can say instead that works better:
1. “Why would you do that?”
When we ask our kids, “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do that?” they're never going to have a good answer. If they've made a mistake, there's not going to be a sound reason.
So instead, we want to focus on helping our kids problem-solve. We want to focus on sharing what we expect from their behavior next time. It's OK to say: “When you did that, that was not the right choice.” But try to add, “How could you have done that differently?”
Then, you're teaching, rather than just putting down their action. You're building them up for the next time, so they can make a better choice when that same situation occurs again. In this way, you’re turning things around, allowing children to empower themselves by saying, “Hey, I could have made a different choice here. This is a better way I could have handled that situation.”
2.“When I was your age …”
“I would walk to school every day carrying my books through rain, sleet, or snow,” or you name it. This is not effective.
Why? Whenever we start a lecture this way, we're trying to make it sound like our kids have it much easier than we did, which is negative. But the main issue here is that we are lecturing, which is using 10 words or more to express an idea. Our kids will tune us out every time.
Now, it's OK to share our life lessons. It's OK to share what we’ve learned in a genuine way because our kids can learn from us. But if the only thing we're doing is focusing on a lecture about how hard we had it, they're going to tune us out, and we're not going to be effective in getting a different result from them.
3. “I do and I do, and I do for you, and this is all the thanks I get.”
This one is so tempting because as parents, we know well how thankless and fatiguing our job can be. But it is not a good way to gain our kids’ gratitude. Why? Because we don't want our kids to whine, so why would we whine? And this question sounds like whining.
So instead, we want to share unconditional love. We want to show them that we're doing for them because we want to do for them. And that again builds the positive atmosphere that we all want to create.
Now, we have to be realistic. We're going to get frustrated, and it's OK for our kids to see us frustrated. But we establish better authority with them when we're focused on what we want to see, and when we are showing them we're there for them no matter what.
4. “Just wait until you have kids.”
When we say this, our kids hear, “I hope your kids turn out like you.” Again, this just puts them down. When we instead project onto our kids the positive traits and qualities that they have and that we want to see, they want to live up to those.
So this one is about not expressing to our kids that they are a hassle. Instead, we want to be clear and direct about what we want, but not in a way that’s complaining or whining.
You do want to tell your kids when they've done something wrong. We do need to correct our kids. But this is about being efficient and effective with our language. Less is more. Lower your tone of voice, use fewer words, and you will accomplish more in guiding your kids’ behavior. Then, focus on the positive to create an atmosphere where kids want to live up to your expectations.