Say This, Not That: Positive Alternatives to Common Parenting Phrases

Positive Alternatives
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Have you ever caught yourself saying something that you hated hearing as a kid? It’s no big secret that parenting can be stressful, and sometimes we repeat the things we meant to avoid without realizing it. Other times, words escape us in tense moments that we might later regret.

Here’s the good news: It’s always a good time to lean toward positive parenting and make some changes. Apologies go a long way toward repairing relationships with little ones, and owning our mistakes and setting new goals shows our kids that we all have things to work on.

Positive parenting doesn’t mean getting everything exactly right every single time. We all make mistakes, we all experience stress, and we’re all entitled to a bad day here and there. When we reframe our thoughts and practice using positive phrasing in calm moments, we develop good habits that we can utilize during times of stress.

Try working some of these positive alternatives into your daily interactions with your kids.

Instead of: Stop crying!

Say: I can see that you’re feeling really sad right now. I know how that feels. Will a hug help?

Kids need empathy when they’re overwhelmed with emotion. Taking the time to connect and offer comfort helps kids learn to work through their negative emotions. It also sends the message that all feelings are important.

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Instead of: How many times do I have to tell you?

Say: Let’s take a break from what we’re doing practice our deep breathing.

Not all avoidance behaviors are manipulation or willful. Kids get caught up in what they’re doing, including arguing with siblings or repetitive behavior, and sometimes repeat what you asked them not to do because they’re stuck in a loop. Taking a break from the action together gives your child a chance to hit the reset with relaxation strategies.

Instead of: Great job!

Say: It looks like you worked really hard on that. Tell me about it.

Empty praise holds little meaning for kids and encourages them to become “good job” collectors. Commenting on effort and asking for details shows interest and helps kids think about the steps they took to create something or solve a problem.

Instead of: Don’t use that voice with me!

Say: Please use a calm voice so I can hear you out.

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Like adults, kids sometimes raise their voices in frustration when they want to get their needs met. The best way to curb this habit is to model remaining calm in times of stress and provide reminders to use a calm voice that is easier to understand.

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Instead of: Don’t worry about it!

Say: It seems like you’re feeling worried right now. Can you tell me what’s on your mind?

I’m fairly certain that “don’t worry” has never actually helped a worrier stop worrying. Acknowledge the feeling and ask questions to help your child work through his worries and brainstorm coping strategies.

Instead of: Calm down!

Say: I can see that you’re overwhelmed. Let’s take three deep breaths together.

Similar to “don’t worry”, telling your child to “calm down” doesn’t actually help your child feel calm. Deep breathing is the best way to help calm kids when they’re on overload. Do this together to show your child that you are there to help.

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Instead of: Stop it!

Say: What are you feeling right now?

When we refocus on the feelings beneath the behavior, we help kids evaluate how they reached their frustration point and consider ways to get back on track.

Kids show frustration in any number of ways. When parents meet frustration with frustration, kids get into a negative coping pattern. Simple positive alternatives to phrases can make a difference. In calming our own reactions, we show kids how to cope with negative emotions and stressful situations.

Have you ever worked positive alternatives into your daily phrases with your family? What did you say? Did you notice a difference?

What do you think?

Say This, Not That: Positive Alternatives to Common Parenting Phrases

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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