5 Phrases You Need in Your Parenting Tool Box
Tool boxes aren’t just for hammers, drills, and ten different kinds of screwdrivers. You also need a “parenting tool box” full of techniques, phrases, and actions that help manage challenging behaviors and situations.
Here are my top 5 phrases (taught to me by family therapist and mentor extraordinaire, Allison LaTona) to add to yours...
You’re Having BIG feelings.
Tantrums and meltdowns. Who wants them? Nobody. Who has to deal with them? Everybody. They are easily two of the most challenging behaviors parents are faced with. We associate tantrums and meltdowns with young children, but the truth is they can happen at any age. (Full disclosure: Even I had one just the other day.) Our challenge is to stay calm, present, and attuned during our child’s meltdowns- this is no small feat, I know.
The first line of defense when a tantrum strikes is to mirror and validate what’s going on for your child. When your child has reached the tantrum point, trying to reason with them or talk them out of it makes it worse. Letting them know you see them and you understand their feelings is the key to helping them move through their emotional storm more quickly and easily.
One of the best ways to do this is to use the phrase, “You’re having BIG feelings” and for older kids, “You’re really upset/angry/frustrated right now.” I know it may sound, well, cheesy and like a bad ABC After School Special, but I promise, it works!
Your three-and-a-half-year-old wants a turn with your older son’s scooter, but your older son is riding it and has no intention of stopping anytime soon. Commence tantrum. You say, “You’re having BIG feelings right now! You really want a turn but your brother isn’t done yet.” That’s it. Simple. Not, “Well, it is his scooter honey and he’s not done riding it” or “Why are you so upset, you have a perfectly good scooter right here, why do you need to ride his?” Nope. Just, “You’re having BIG feelings right now.” Said with empathy and understanding (even if those are the two furthest emotions from what you’re actually feeling!).
One of the keys to making parenting more enjoyable is decreasing power struggles. Most of us (myself included) fall into the “If...then…” trap several times a day when it comes to trying to get our kids to cooperate.
If you don’t pick your room up, then we’re not going to the park.
If you don’t stop antagonizing your brother, then you can’t go over to Johnny’s house.
If you don’t brush your teeth, then you can’t go outside to play.
The problem with “If….then…” is that, every time it comes out of our mouths, we’re setting ourselves up for a power struggle. “If… then…” says I really need you to do this, which is basically an invitation for your child to challenge you.
“When...then…” takes the power struggle out of the equation by putting the onus on your child and turning a negative into a neutral.
When you pick up your room, then we can go to the park. (You don’t need him to do it, it’s simply a neutral, objective statement.).
When you stop antagonizing your brother, then you can go over to Johnny’s house. (In other words, here are the facts, you decide.).
When you brush your teeth, then you can go outside to play. (Simple. Direct. Objective.).
The Plan Is….
Imagine if some bigger, older person had complete control over how you spent your time, starting the minute you woke up.
You get out of bed, go downstairs and sit down to check your emails. “Good Morning,” says the person in charge, “It’s time for breakfast!” You finish breakfast and return to your computer. “Time to go upstairs, brush your teeth and get dressed,” says the person in charge. You begrudgingly comply, then head downstairs to check your emails. You’re mid-email when the person in charge rushes downstairs and declares, “Time to go! Hurry up! We’re going to be late!”
If this were the daily pattern, you’d most likely start to feel frustrated, even angry. Chances are, at some point, you’d snap and have a meltdown.
What if, instead of giving you moment-by-moment orders, the person in charge gave you a rundown of your morning right from the get go…
“Good morning! The plan this morning is to eat breakfast, then brush your teeth and get dressed. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a few minutes to check emails before it’s time to leave for work.”
Knowing “the plan” and what’s expected of you up front would most likely mitigate feelings of frustration and anger, make you feel more respected, and give you a sense of agency over your morning.
Sometimes we forget that kids are people just like us! They want to be seen, heard and respected. Giving them “the plan” accomplishes all three and helps mitigate potential power struggles.
In OUR Family We….
This is one of my favorite sayings, one that I use all the time. Here are some examples:
In OUR family, we use our words.
In OUR family, we treat each other with kindness and respect.
In OUR family, we listen when someone else is talking.
In OUR family, we take turns.
In OUR family, we talk about our feelings when we’re upset.
Using this phrase is an effective way to reinforce the values we’re trying to teach our kids. It’s also a great way to remind ourselves about the values we’re trying to teach.
It’s important to remember that kids learn values through modeling and repetition. I haven’t ever counted, but “In OUR family, we treat each other with kindness and respect,” comes out of my mouth at least five times a day, probably more. Any time one of my boys hits the other, grabs a toy, teases or antagonizes (basically every few minutes! Ha!), this is my go-to phrase.
Instead of yelling, “Stop hitting your brother!!!!” (which I also do on occasion), saying, “In OUR family we treat each other with kindness and respect,” while calmly stopping the hitter from causing any more damage, has a more powerful impact- you are both modeling what you’re trying to teach (acting in a kind and respectful way, even though you are frustrated) and verbally reinforcing the value.
Consider this scenario (one that happens often with my boys)...You sit down for a family dinner. You ask your kids and your husband about their day. Your husband replies first and while he’s giving you all the rundown, one of your kids interrupts, complaining about the meal. Instead of snapping and saying something like, “It’s rude to interrupt when someone is talking,” you say, “In OUR family, we listen when someone is talking.” You may have to repeat it a few times, but eventually your child gets the memo and waits until your husband is finished before resuming his food-related complaints (how to deal with those in another post).
Try using the “In OUR family…” phrase when you feel yourself getting irritated/annoyed/frustrated with your kids. It will help you stay out of the red zone where we tend to say things we regret.
That Is My Final Answer. / Mommy Is All Done Listening Right Now.
How is it that kids are such expert negotiators? I swear that my five-year-old could negotiate a peace deal in the Middle East. The second he hears “no,” he goes into master-negotiator mode. It’s seriously impressive. And very annoying.
I love these two phrases because using them instantly extinguishes a power struggle.
Mommy, can I have another snack?
I’d love to give you one but it’s almost time for lunch, so we’re going to wait.
But, MOM!!!!! I only had an apple for snack and I’m staaaaaaarrrrrving!! My tummy is growling and it’s telling me it really needs a snack!! (I’m telling you, this kid is good!).
I hear you. We’re going to wait until lunch. That’s my final answer.
Mommy is all done listening right now.
That’s it. Discussion over. Now, that’s not to say that my son (or your kid) won’t continue to protest, but after I say I’m done listening, I no longer engage on the topic. If I did, we could go back and forth for an hour. He’s welcome to protest if he needs to, but I’ve moved on. The key is that after you say, “Mommy is all done listening right now,” you have to be good on your word. Even if your child keeps trying to negotiate, you have to disengage. Eventually he will get the point and move on as well.
I hope these are helpful and I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what your go-to parenting phrases are. And stay tuned for my free 33 Phrases You Need in You Parenting Tool Box PDF.