Often parents will buy into these new ideas, but they aren’t quite sure how to implement them. What do I say if not “good job?” It’s great to know why new approaches are necessary, but unless we have some clarity around our alternatives, we’re bound to quickly revert to previous patterns.
Here’s a list of phrases you may want to consider abolishing from your vernacular.
1. “It’s not that big of a deal.” Or “You’re Okay.”
Instead try: “I can tell you’re feeling really upset.” or “Ouch, I bet that hurt! Are you okay?”
Additional Reading: 8 Guaranteed Ways to Emotionally F*ck Up Your Kids
2. “Your brother always picks up his toys.”
Instead try: “You seem to be having trouble getting your room picked up. Do you need some help? I can time you to see how fast you can get your toys put away in those bins!”
Additional reading: Siblings 101
3. “You can come back when you’re ready to behave.”
Instead try: “It looks like maybe you need a break. Let’s go take a break together and make a plan.”
Additional Reading: The Trouble with Time Outs
4. “Good job!”
When we praise a child for engaging in an activity they once chose of their own volition, we turn intrinsic motivation into extrinsic motivation. This means that what was once done for the joy of the activity is now only done with the intent of eliciting more praise. Dr. Laura Markham points out that creating external motivation means that children become interested in engaging in a certain behavior only when an adult is present to admire it, “…children who are praised for sharing begin to share less unless adults are watching, apparently because they’ve learned from the praise that no one in their right mind would share out of the goodness of their heart” (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids).
Instead try: “Wow, you worked really hard on that puzzle, and you finished it!” or a simple “You did it!” Such statements recognize the child’s feeling of accomplishment without judgment.
Additional Reading: When A Parent's 'I Love You' Means 'Do as I Say'
5. “Stop crying”
If we discourage a developmentally appropriate behavior such as crying, this is a reflection of our own discomfort with emotions. It’s a clear indicator that we have our own inner work to tackle if we want to avoid passing along our unhealthy relationship to emotions to our children.
Instead try: “Take your time to cry all your cries, and when you’re done we can talk.”
Additional reading: Invalidation in Families: What Are The Hidden Aspects?
6. “Don’t worry!”
Instead try: As my then three year old once explained to me, "whether monsters are real or not, it feels the same to me." Acknowledge the worry without judging or adding your own worry. Give words for the experience of anxiety and discuss ways to manage it, including deep breathing and imagery.
Additional reading: 5 Things You Should Never Say to an Anxious Child
Giving your children the tools to process emotions, think critically, and ask important questions are all life skills that will be invaluable as they mature. Remember that what may feel like more work now is an investment in your child, and the pay off makes it all worth it.