• Kristina Mulligan

How Choosing My Words Changed My Parenting

What we say to our children is one of the most important parts of parenting – a very close second to our actions. I have tried, in many ways, to be more mindful when choosing the words that I use with my son. Consequently, my way of thinking has changed. Of course, I have always known to speak to with kindness, but never thought about the negativity behind some things that we as whole say to young children: “Don’t do that!” without explanation, “Stop!” in an aggressive tone, or “Hurry up!” when frazzled. As a mom, not a doctor or psychologist, I have thought about how a change of language can result in the same results, but in a more nurturing and positive environment.

1. “What do you need to remember?” Instead of “Don’t do that!” or saying no, I calmly point out the specifics of what exactly shouldn’t be happening in that moment.  “What do you need to remember about brushing your teeth? No running around, right? You have to stay still.” “When you’re on the couch, there’s no jumping. Remember? Please sit.” Speaking this way helps him to understand exactly what I’m asking of him, whereas saying “Don’t do that!” leaves unanswered questions about what exactly is the wrong thing. 

2. “We’re going to go to bed in 10 minutes.” Whenever doing anything, specifically bed, I try to give a ten-minute warning so that there aren’t any surprises. “Ten minutes until we get in the car, so get all of your sillies out!” “You have ten minutes until it’s time to say goodnight! What would you like to do?” For us, this has proven to show less behavioral resistance when it’s time to do whatever we are counting down to. He’s had time to adjust to the fact that there will be a change in environment or activity and is ready by the time the ten minutes are up.

3. “Breathe.” Kids, and especially toddlers, are entitled to bad days, just like adults. I know that I get cranky when I’m tired or stressed, but I am more in control of my emotions and thoughts than a child. What do I do? I take a deep breath, so I am teaching this behavior instead of punishing normal emotions. “Breathe. Let’s try to find the words for what you want.” “Take a deep breath and let’s sit together.” Sometimes, I need to take a deep breath myself to gain the composure during a tantrum, but these couple of seconds help me to think before speaking and use a calm tone. I try to be the calm in a moment of chaos. I also give a reminder that my love is unconditional – no matter the behavior, mommy is a constant. 

4. “Are you okay?” I used to use “It’s okay” a lot. It was my way to calm during a breakdown or after a fall and that’s not necessarily a wrong thing to do! As a parent, we want to reassure them that this is just a bad moment that will end quickly. I switched over to asking instead of telling because I didn’t want to invalidate any emotions he may be experiencing. It sounds a little silly, but don’t you hate being told that you’re fine when you are in a moment of weakness? I know I do. So, instead of saying “It’s okay,” I pull him onto my lap, give him a big hug so that he knows that he’s safe, and I ask him if he’s okay. Just like that, the moment passes as soon as it came.

5. “Where are your listening ears?” If we are having a “defiant-day” in our house, I usually have to remind my son that he has ears and that they are meant for listening. He forgets this often. “Mommy asked you to only color on paper, remember? Where are you listening ears?” “Show me your ears. Remember to use them to listen! What mommy and daddy tell you is important!” In this instance, taking a moment to point out the ears and giving a reminder to listen really helps draw attention to the sense of hearing. It’s quite literal: these are your ears, please use them.

I, in no way, am saying that I have banned the word “No!” from my vocabulary, but I do try to save it for dangerous situations. This way, I prevent overuse and Flynn knows that I am serious. With a toddler, it’s always hard to get immediate results, but that tone in an unsafe situation works!

Kids are simply tiny humans with big emotions, who need support and understanding. Our words are more important to them than we realize.

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