Updated: Aug 14, 2021
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. I can think of a million things I’ve done wrong and I will do a few million more before this journey comes to an end...but there are a few things I am grateful I put into practice with wordage that has benefited our home and my children. Most of these are used in our house as soon as they start to say their first words! Here they are:
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#1 Make a plan.
The times when John and Jane are at each other’s throats for time with the toy they’ve decided they both want, for the days that Joey was taking a really long turn making everyone else wait anxiously, for the Julia’s worry that she won’t finish her chores in time to play outside before dark...we say “Make a plan.”
I was struck one day by a friend of mine who was having a bumpy time with her siblings. “Dad was always our peacekeeper.” she said “He was always there to resolve the conflict so we never learned how to resolve on our own.“ My friend and her siblings were now all grown up and unable to enjoy each other and support each other in their season they were going through. That’s when I started thinking about how I wanted to instill in my children the skills to work together and resolve conflict without me.
Are there ever situations where Mom or Dad need to step in? Absolutely...but I think far too often I see Mom or Dad breaking up the fight and then barking their orders on how to proceed while the children stand still and effortless. Thus, when we hear the yelling and fighting or when billy comes crying that he’s not getting his turn, we avoid giving away a solution at first and try to prompt with “Make a plan.”
In toddler-speak, this can also be “Use your words.” Yes, we start the process early. As soon as the kiddos can talk (and earlier if their ”arguing“ with older siblings) we’re prompting them to make a plan with each other. Of course there is teaching to do, so throwing out 2 or 3 plan suggestions can be a great idea if you’re just getting the kids started with this concept!
#2 Talk Before You Tattle
Piggy-Backing on the conflict-resolving train we were on, our house has a standing rule that we remind our kids of. ”Talk to ______ before you tattle tale.”
Now I think we need to lay some ground work for this one and point out that there are many situations that we need our kids to be aware of when it’s best to run and get an adult right away....so this rule is mainly for our household use and will have some exceptions as you can imagine.
The ”Talk before you tattle.” speech comes into play when Jane steels the remote control from Jess and Jess immediately comes to Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad would usually go in for some peacekeeping or planning strategy (like the last one) ....but could Jess possibly have been able to ask Jane for the remote back instead? Would it be possibly even a bit more fare if Jane had a chance to redeem herself before she got into trouble with her parents for thieving the remote? I think a lot of this thinking likely came out of Matthew Chapter 5 for me! Lol! And I love it. Try to talk it out before you tattle. If they don’t listen, then come for help.
Exception: The household argument loop hole we have had bouts with here are the instances when there’s a lot of anger. During a hitting phase (most of us see our kids go through those), we’ve asked our kids to get us immediately if they are so mad they feel like giving out a punch. In this case, if my kid has chosen to get me instead of using violence, they did the right thing in my book.
#3 Replacements for “No”
If there’s one word that children learn at lightning speed and seem to love to repeat over and over, it’s the big ol’ “NO!”
Before having kids, I worked tutoring preschoolers using behavioural analysis. I haven’t taken all of my work practices and transferred them into my parenting, but one thing for sure I have carried over: Appropriate Word Replacement.
Appropriate word replacement is simply when you ignore a word that your child said that was inappropriate or undesirable and prompt them to say a more preferred word or phase instead.
Tanner was offered a turn on the swing and said “No.” - Mom says “Try saying ‘I don’t want to right now, thanks.’” There’s no “Don’t say no!” from Mom or “That was rude”....but simply a better way to say it given for them to repeat right away instead.
Julia keeps touching Jenny’s hair and Jenny’s had enough and says “NO!” - Dad says “How about you say ‘Please don’t’” (For Toddlers, “Try again Jenny. ‘Please Don’t’”)
Other things like “Please stop”, “Maybe later”, “Not right now” or even “No thank you” can be better alternatives to the stark “NO!” that tends to be the overused shout heard more often than not.
#4 Find a Way
Now I can’t take all the brilliant Mom credit for this one...a friend of mine was chatting with me on the phone and she and I were talking about our attempt at raising well-loved, exuberant, secure and independent kids and she told me about this phrase that she was implementing in her home with her toddlers: “Find a way.”
You know those moments when your child is standing below the bathroom light switch with a stool right beside their leg and they’re calling you to come and turn the light on for them so they can have a pee? Or when they want to go down the slide at the park, but they‘re transitioning from your strong arms plopping them at the top to using the ladder instead to climb up? These are the times for this phrase. This is not for shouting while your back is turned because you’re too busy to look or your face is in your phone and you don’t want to offer help. This is for us to say to our kids with eyes watching, smile brimming...when you’re perfectly aware of the situation and you encourage your child to move toward independence. Can’t reach the apples in the fridge? Hint, pointing to the chair at the kitchen table, and say “Find a way.” Ball thrown in the bushes? It’s not time to change the game or get grandpa to bushwack...“Find a way.”
I love it. It’s hopeful, not demeaning or neglectful. It’s a great way to prompt my kids to try, try harder, think, strategize, do it themselves, feel capable.
#5 Try Again
I think this phrase has been key in my time as mom of 1, 2 and now 3 Children. When they mess up, when they misbehave, when they‘re discouraged...it may be time to tell them to try again. It replaces so many negative responses. I don’t use it to replace discipline, but I sure use it after discipline. I don’t encourage my kids to wallow in their failures long. They don’t get to sulk and and feel sorry or ashamed of themselves all afternoon. There’s grace and new mercies every morning! Try again.
Micheal kicked his brother. Let’s deal with that....and then let’s try again! What should we have done there if we played it out again? Luis scribbled all over his school worksheet...in PEN! AH! Let’s talk about that for a second....but guess what? The school day doesn’t have to have a hovering cloud of bad-attitude hovering over it for the rest of the day....try again! Let’s give you another, sit with you, and make it something you can finish and show Dad at suppertime! Ruby told Mom to make her lunch...um ”Sweetie, try THAT again! How about ‘Mom, will you please make me lunch?”
See where I’m going here? This one’s ageless and a go-to favourite for me!
Nope, this one’s not for our kiddos to learn (though they will indeed!)...it’s for us, Mom/Dad/Caregiver. ”I’m sorry” is HUGE! And we have this weird ego thing that happens when we get to be the parent of a little life - we get used to all of this control and helping and guiding and need to be right and look like we’re right and act like we’re perfect....and then we mess up. We all do. And something inside of us argues with that! Something says “No, you can’t mess up! You’re the mom!“ “You can’t be weak!” “You have authority and to keep it you can’t admit when you’re wrong.”
Big. Fat. Lies.
I fully believe that one of the things that I can do that will make my child a better human being, that will bring us closer together in our relationship, that will bring me to be my most honest self with my kids....is saying “I’m sorry.”
It feels weird. Your kids can make you feel worse too like saying “Yeah you really messed up Dad.” or “You should definitely be sorry Mom” ...lol...thanks kids for heaping on the guilt! But we’re also modeling how to apologize, how to live honestly, and that being vulnerable isn’t always a bad thing. Most of us need more of this word in our vocabulary with our children. They need to hear it.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory...but something I consciously try to do. Our kids need to hear more compliments. Not flattery - they don’t need to hear things that are lies to make them feel good...but they need that pat on the back for doing a good job. Our parent role tends to correct and teach and scold and direct a TON! We also need to be consciously balancing that with being uplifting and encouraging!
When we’re driving home from soccer and I’m giving them wide eyes in the rear view saying I watched them goof off when the coach was speaking....I need to also praise them for the time they were listening to coach or for the energy they played with during the game. When they forgot their manners at Grandma’s house, I talk to them about that too...but I also need to tell them how cute it was when they smiled nicely for me when I snapped a picture of them on Grandma's knee or when they took their empty cup to grandma’s sink after a snack.
If we think about it, I’m sure we can think of a TON of compliments we could pay our kids if only we could get our critical eyes to get into the habit.
#8 I Love You
I have heard people tell me “I don’t say ‘I love you’ too much because I don’t want it to wear out” or “I want ‘I love you’ to mean something and be special”
I’m just not thinking on that playing field guys. Nope. Already no. As soon as you started no.
Yes it’s special. Yes we want it to mean something. But there is no way I would ever put “I love you” in reserve or on a shelf saved for another time. Every day with our kids is precious - every moment. No day can be taken for granted.
When we’re proud of our kids, “I love you.” When we cuddle them, “I love you.” After we scold them, “I love you.” After try again, make a plan, find a way, ”I love you.”
This is possibly the single most important statement we need our kids to know without a doubt and remember forever.
And that’s it! That was quite a yarn! I hope this might get you brainstorming on ways you can be intentional about what you say to your kids as you customize what works in your home! Thanks for reading!