Updating your parenting vocabulary can encourage clear, positive communication with your child

Do you ever feel like a broken record, repeating the same phrases to your children your parents said to you? Learn how to update your parenting vocabulary to encourage successful and positive communication with your children.

Update your parenting vocabulary to improve communication with your child.
Update your parenting vocabulary to improve communication with your child.

You know those things your parents used to say to you as a kid that you swore you’d never say to your children? Those good intentions get lost somewhere between midnight diaper runs and soccer practice, and many parents find themselves echoing these parenting clichés often and on repeat. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to update your parenting vocabulary with these tips and tricks.

Because I said so, that’s why!

This phrase is often used when there is very little perceived time/patience to explain the details of your parental decree. To really communicate with your child and give them valuable skills, try taking the time to explain the why. Children learn from their parents how to make good decisions. They learn about the consequences of their actions. These are the skills that really equip them to handle the complicated decisions that await them when they reach adulthood. When we give this blanket response, we are missing out on an opportunity to teach and guide children in decision-making skills. After all, if all of their friends start jumping off bridges, do you want your child to follow “because he said so,” or do you want them to make their own judgement call?

What to say instead: Because (insert valid reason here). (Example: You can’t wear a bathing suit today because it’s snowing! If you don’t wear warm clothes you could get sick.)

Don’t make me (come over there)

Parents often use this one to try to modify a child’s behavior, implying that if it continues you will approach them and inflict some sort of negative consequence. Instead of offering an alternative or teaching your child a different way of behaving, you are threatening them with a punishment. Children will change their behaviors in the present to avoid punishment, but these tactics don’t teach them the skills they need. Fearing a negative outcome and learning how to control your own behavior are two different things.

What to say instead: This behavior is not acceptable. Instead, you could (alternative behavior). If you continue to (original behavior) then (consequence). (Example: Throwing toys is not OK. Instead of throwing them, you can play with them nicely. If you keep throwing toys, you will have to leave the playroom.)

Wait until your father/mother comes home

This is often said out of desperation meant to take something off your plate. While it is good to involve both parents in all aspects of raising a child, including discipline if it is meant as a threat or a stalling tactic, it’s a missed opportunity to deal with the behavior or situation as it is happening when your child is best suited to learn from it. (It’s also nice when children are excited for a parent to come home, not fearful.) Threatening a child with punishment is not a learning process, it does not teach a child what to do differently.

Note: Young children especially have trouble when consequences happen in the future. The longer the consequence from the incident, the less likely your child will be able to connect the two in their brains making it much more difficult to learn from the experience.

What to say instead: If it’s not something that you can deal with in the present, try, “Let’s talk about this with mom/dad when they get home.”

Why would you do a thing like that?

Generally, this statement associates a child’s personality with a negative behavior. By using this blaming statement, we are generalizing their behavior instead of highlighting the specific problem. Remember that children communicate through their misbehavior, so instead of asking a question that doesn’t have a good answer, try getting to the root of the problem.

What to say instead: Observe your child and ask them how they are feeling. Often, their behavior can be translated into whatever it is they need, like attention, stimulation, peace and quiet or a nap!

It is OK to disapprove of a behavior, but instead of blaming with a “you statement,” as in, “You threw the ball in the house and spilled milk everywhere!” try expressing your feelings with an “I statement,” such as, “I’m frustrated that you chose to throw the ball in the house because it’s not safe.”

I love you

There is no limit for the number of times you should tell your children you love them. You simply cannot overdo it. In addition to telling your children you love them, show them! Give them hugs, kisses, write them letters and appreciate them for who they are and what they do.

What to say in addition: I’m proud of you. You are so special. You are so important to me.

For more information about positive discipline, child development, academic success or parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website. 

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