Thursday, September 9, 2010

Talking to Young Kids

"Because I said so."

"Good job!"

"You'd better stop that by the time I count to three."

"I can't believe you did that!"

Do you have a young child? Do these phrases sound all-too-familiar? Have you ever sat back and considered the language you use with your children and its impact? HMN Member and author of "What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" Sarah MacLaughlin has done just that - and has written a handy, thoughtful little book that every parent should read!

Some of the expressions we use with children are obviously counter-productive, as MacLaughlin points out. But others send subtle messages to our children about their behavior, self-worth, and how to operate in the world. Messages that are not serving them well. "Good job" is so easy to say but can lead to a dependence on adult praise and, as MacLaughlin explains, "robs him of the opportunity to truly please himself, which is the foundation for gaining self-esteem and self-motivation."

Other catch phrases, drawn from our own childhood experiences or simply out of a moment of frustration, do not serve parents well either. "Because I said so" breaks the parent-child connection because it "dismisses the child's feelings" and may well lead to defiance and questioning as your child grows. "You're driving me crazy", "you scared me to death" and "I'm going to leave without you" reflect the stress and frustration of parents but also create anxiety for our children. Fortunately, MacLaughlin is full of ideas and suggestions for alternatives. Instead of warning your kids that you're at your breaking point, how about presenting a new activity, refocusing attention or suggesting that he/she finds "something calmer to do"? Rather than threatening to leave, try giving an option such as "let's hold hands and walk out together, or I can carry you."

Change is not always easy. But it starts with awareness and attention. Realizing what we are saying and how it impacts our children is a great starting point. Putting focus on our kids, understanding their unique temperament and developmental stage, as well as their environment and world view are all critical to improving communication and the narratives that we use for our children. We need to be patient not only with our kids, but with ourselves in the process. Reminding ourselves that parenting is no easy task is vital to success. As MacLaughlin writes:

"Little kids are messy and silly, frustrating and wise. Raising a child, or just spending the day with one, can be a real adventure. Bring your flexibility and patience - and don't forget a sense of humor. These qualities, and using the right words along the way, will promote understanding and a peaceful atmosphere. And you will enjoy your time with children more."

Get a copy of "What Not to Say" and see for yourself.
Because I told you so ;-).


  1. hmmm i say good job all the time :-/ so much she says it herself when she does a good job...

    is it really so bad? what is bad about it and what should i say instead?

  2. According to the book, you might try something positive and specific instead of generalized praise (i.e. "good job"). The example offered is "Instead of your evaluation, comment on how the child might be feeling: 'You did it yourself - you must feel very proud.'"

  3. This is perfect timing for me! I am reading Adele Faber's books on talking to kids. Is this book similar?


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