Parenthood is rooted in actions. Children learn not just by what we say, but by observing what their parents and guardians (and possibly other children) actually do.
Yet the words we use with our children are important. And sometimes all it takes is the right question — or a simple tweak in the way we express frustration — to really drive communication and connection. These six phrases won’t work miracles, of course, but they might just subtly change the types of conversations you have with your child, whether you’re looking to get them to open up more about their days, to minimizing daily hassles. or simply develop a more open relationship of trust.
1. “You should be proud of yourself!”
Children’s sense of self-esteem begins to develop remarkably young — like, by the time they’re in kindergarten, research suggests. Parents therefore play a crucial role in helping them develop a positive self-image from the start.
Amy McCready, parenting coach and founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com, recommends this simple phrase: “The next time your child does something worth celebrating, resist the urge to say ‘I’m so proud of you’ and tell them instead that they should be proud of themselves!
The hope behind this simple conversational tweak is that you can help encourage internal motivation — and subtly reinforce that other people’s opinions of them aren’t as important as their own. It may take some practice, but McCready promises that when you say it, you’ll look up and see your child “beaming with pride.”
2. “I hear you!”
According to McCready, a warm and enthusiastic “I hear you!” can be a great way to minimize complaints.
“The next time your kids are complaining about doing their homework, taking a bath, or cleaning their room, try saying, ‘I hear you, I don’t like cleaning my room either!'” he said. she said, adding, “Sometimes kids just want to know you’re getting it.
Telling your child “I hear you” can help validate a range of emotions, especially for young children who are trying to deal with big feelings. As children’s mental health experts say, letting your child know you hear what they’re trying to tell you doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with (or condone) every action they take in response. response to his feelings. Telling a toddler who is collapsing because you won’t let him do something that you hear how frustrated he is doesn’t mean you’re giving in.
But it can help them feel seen and heard, which is an important part of being able to identify — and fight against — their own emotions, big and small.
3. “What is your plan for ______?” »
It’s another phrase McCready likes to play down battles over simple daily tasks, like doing homework or doing household chores. (She likes to call them “family contributions” instead of chores.)
“The next time you are tempted to remind your child of something, use this phrase instead. For example, rather than reminding your child of an impending science project due date, ask, “What’s your plan for completing your science project?” McCready said.
The idea is that you give your child real ownership of the task and let them know that you trust them to do it. You also teach yourself to be less of a micromanager. Their plan for a given task might not be what you imagined (and yes, sometimes they might need your help to get them on the right track, especially when they’re younger), but you free them to handle tasks on their own terms.
4. “Why do you ask? »
It’s a phrase Ron Lieber, New York Times financial columnist and author of “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money,” recommends parents fall back just about every time their child asks for it. a question related to money. On the one hand, it allows you to better assess what really interests them. A child might ask something like, “Are we rich or poor?” when what they’re really trying to figure out is, “Is our family normal?” Are we okay? »
But it’s also a great question to fall back on, simply because it gives you a few seconds to calm down and be more deliberate about your answer, even if it’s ultimately an honest “I don’t know”.
Of course, “Why do you ask?” also works outside of financial conversations. It’s a really good way to connect whenever your child asks you a serious question, as long as you do it with genuine kindness and curiosity.
5. “Anything you could do to help with ______ would be awesome.”
“Over the course of a day, us parents tend to do a lot of ‘direction’ with our kids – telling them what to do, asking them to help, etc.,” McCready said. . “With this phrase, you tailor your tone of voice and the words you choose to be attractive rather than demanding.
Also remember that experts say it’s important to notice your child doing good things throughout the day, so when you see your child helping with anything around the house, do it. know him.
6. “What was the most frustrating/exciting part of your day? »
Getting children to open up about their days can sometimes feel overwhelming. So, having a few prompts in mind that go beyond the typical “How was your day?” can really help.
A prompt that often works is some version of, “What was the most frustrating part of your day?” or “What was the most exciting part of your day?” recommends the Child Mind Institute (CMI). (You could also try replacing it with “boring” or “interesting”. Test it out a bit to see what seems to resonate with your own child.)
Getting into the habit of opening up about difficult and exciting times in their day can take some practice, especially for children who are exhausted after a long day of school and extracurricular activities. But go on. As CMI says, “Checking in with kids on what they think about school, their friends, or what interests them (or totally bores them) is the best way to make sure you get the full scoop. when it comes to your child’s mental health.