Has your kid’s lackluster response to your well wishes at drop-off started to give you the impression that you need to take a new tack? If so, you’re probably onto something. Here’s the deal: While there’s nothing inherently harmful about telling your kid you hope they have a great day—and chances are you actually mean it—phrases like this that we play on repeat can start to feel, well, meaningless.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook, “when it comes to creating genuine feelings of connection with others (especially children), repetitive and trite phrases—the kind spoken out of habit—may actually do more harm than good, because these trite responses can make people feel invalidated.” In other words, if the end goal is to truly connect with your kid, the best thing you can do is to take yourself off autopilot and opt for more thoughtful speech instead.

“Kids can feel their parent’s autopilot energy,” Cook tells us, “And a deep parent-child connection requires knowing what emotional or mental things are happening in your kid’s life or checking in with them to find out.”

Old habits die hard, though, which is why we asked the expert for some advice on how parents can best go about making the change. Read on for her three-part plan, plus some new and improved language to add to the rotation.

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8 Things to Say To Your Kids Instead of ‘Have a Great Day’
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  • Be aware. Take some time to identify the offending habit—be it saying ‘have a great day,’ ‘you’ll do great’ or any other such phrase that you utter so regularly it might sound insincere. Once you’ve pinpointed the problem, you’ll become more self-aware and better able to recognize the instances in which you’ve allowed autopilot mode to happen.
  • Take action. Cook suggests replacing the autopilot phrase with a simple ritual designed to help you come up with different and more meaningful things to say: “Every morning, set aside some time to reflect on what your child might have on their plate that day that is positive and one where they might need a cheerleader. Then, create a sentence with a sandwich of positive-cheerleader-positive.” This exercise will force you to be more specific and engage with your kid in a way that communicates that a) you’re paying attention and b) you genuinely care.
  • Ask for accountability. “Ask your spouse or even your child to help you shift this mental habit by kindly alerting you when you say it.” The key word here, though, is kindly. When asking someone to hold you accountable, make sure the person understands that shame and anger should be left out of the equation, and that all you need is a “visual or verbal ‘hey, you did that thing again,’ so you can recognize and then shift/replace the behavior.”

8 Things You Can Say Instead of ‘Have a Great Day’

Need a little inspo to jumpstart your conversations? Here are some to consider.

  • “I saw you working hard on X and admire your persistence. You’ve prepared hard for Y and I know you’ll do as well as you can. Don’t forget about your amazing ability to always Z.” 
  • “You are [insert positive affirmation]. I know you’ll do your best on X, so don’t stress too much. Bravery means sometimes doing things that are scary. That builds character. See you after school.”
  • “Last night you confided in me X. I appreciate and love that you felt comfortable to come to me with this. I will take your lead on when and how we talk about it. Today may be difficult but know that I’m here for you when you get out. I love you.” 
  • “Listen, sometimes we don’t always do our best on something for all sorts of reasons. That doesn’t mean we quit and give up. I get that you felt X when Y happened. Just like [insert favorite hero] says, [insert inspirational bit about moving forward].
  • “Can’t wait to see you after school so we can do X.”
  • “What I’m most excited about this weekend is getting to do X with you. Catch you on the flip side.”
  • “Good luck with X. I’m sure you’ll do great and even if you don’t there will be a lesson to be found so not all will be lost.” 
  • “You will have such fun doing X today. Good luck with everything. Love you.”

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