The words exit your mouth before you even have time to consider them. You’re under pressure, you’re running late, you’ve been attentive and doting 79 times that day and the 80th time got your goat. And now, well, you really regret saying them.
First, breathe. We’re all just doing our best. But, for the next time, we thought it would be helpful to be reminded of those over-played parenting phrases that really don’t help the situation…and what to say instead.
1. “Because I Said So.”
This type of boundary-setting—a form of authoritative parenting—has the potential to lead to behavioral problems down the road, according to research. If that’s not your style, you might want to steer clear of this four-word conversation-ender, which also breeds poor communication and leaves your child guessing as to why she can or cannot do something. For example, if your five-year-old demands one more show on the iPad, you’re better off explaining the reason behind your “no.” “You’ve already watched an hour of TV today and I’d like us to get outside and turn the screens off.” Articulate and clear.
2. “I’m Not Angry, I’m Disappointed.”
Want to know a secret? Anger is a perfectly healthy response, and it’s OK for your kids to know you feel that way sometimes. Per Psychology Today, telling your child that you’re mad and need to take five minutes to calm down actually teaches them to employ similar self-regulation techniques when they get frustrated. Moreover, telling them you're “disappointed” signals that they’re somehow not good enough or haven’t been able to rise to meet your expectations—and likely won’t yield the behavior modification you’re looking for. Feeling annoyed that they didn’t clean up the playroom…again? Try: “I’m mad that you didn’t take the time to pick up for yourself after we talked about it.”
3. “You’re OK!”
The next time your kid falls and scrapes their knee at the playground or tearfully struggles with school drop-off, resist the urge to brush it off. Per Dr. Karol Darsa, a psychologist specializing in trauma, phrases like “You’re OK!” are dismissive of feelings, and discount a very real emotional response. “Every feeling is welcome—it is about what you do with those feelings,” Dr. Darsa explains. Instead, you want to validate what happened (“oh no, you fell off the monkey bars,”) before offering comfort (“let me see how your knee is doing; I’m sure you will feel better soon.”)
4. “Good Job.”
Your child finishes their homework on time, goes to the bathroom without assistance, eats all their broccoli and the words come right out: Good job. But the issue with this phrase is that it puts the emphasis on the finished product as opposed to the work that went into it. A better approach: “Whoa, you put so much time into working out those math problems.” Or: “I’m so impressed that you listened to your body and went to the bathroom without mama.” It’s about celebrating the process, not the end result.
5. “Come On, Act Like a Big Kid.”
It’s easy to blurt this one out when your kid won’t do something you know they can do. (He’s seven, he can put on his pajamas for Pete’s sake!) But admonishing them for not meeting their potential is actually a form of shaming, per Psychology Today. Instead, a better approach is to empathize while simultaneously setting a limit or expectations without judgment. (“Your shirt and shorts seem extra tricky to put on today, but we need to get out the door. What can I do to help?”)