12 Most Powerful Words for Parents

12 Most Powerful Words for Parents

Early last year, I wrote 12 most powerful words in business. No jargon. No buzzwords. No corporate speak. I reread it recently. And it inspired me to write one in a similar vein for parents. Simple words. Powerful words. Unexpected words.

You won’t find “please” or “thanks” — although both are essential, of course. Nor “patience.” Parents need that. But it’s a trite reminder. You get the idea.

See what you think about these:

1. Whisper

As the mom of two very rambunctious boys — I’ve lost count of the holes poked in drywall, windows cracked and pieces of furniture damaged — one trick works far better than raising my voice: whispering to them. Don’t get me wrong, I yell, too. But it never works. What does, almost every time? Getting on the same level as their four-year old and eight-year old ears and talking very quietly. Takes a lot of control. But it’s very effective.

2. Perhaps

“No” is like lighting a fuse. It can trigger a tantrum — especially when a child who hears that word is tired or hungry. My go-to alternative is “perhaps.” It’s honest. Sometimes something that I’ve said might, perhaps, happen does. Either way, it’s a much better result than throwing the fuel of “NO!” at the two little sparks I call my sons. For example, if asked, “Mom, can we go sledding?” I’d say, “Perhaps.” And add: “If you finish your homework due Monday and speak kindly to your brother.” It helps motivate that behavior. And if he complies, we go sledding. If not, we don’t.
“We’ll see” works just as well. As does, “maybe later.”

It’s not that we don’t use “No.” We do. But these other options can be very useful.

3. Safe

Remind your kids that they are safe with you. They crave feeling and knowing that. So, in addition to showing them, tell them. I do every night when I tuck them in. It usually brings satisfied smiles to their little faces.

4. Sorry

All parents mess up sometimes. We’re human. In situations where you’d make amends with a friend, spouse or adult family member, extend the same courtesy to your children. It models respectful behavior, which is crucial for them to see. And it lets them know that nobody is perfect, which is true.

5. Stop

“Stop” interrupts behavior we want to cease and lets us cue behavior we want, instead. So, if (more likely, when) the boys are running around the house in socks and likely to crash into a wall, I’d say: “Stop.” Then: “Use walking feet.”

Or: “Stop.” Then: “Get a quiet activity, like a puzzle, and take a break.”

6. Eyes

We all listen better when we’re looking at the eyes of the person speaking. When I want my boys to really attend to what I am saying, I make sure I’m near them. Then I’ll cue: “Eyes.” I say it gently and use my fingers to softly bring their eyes to my face. The secret is you have to be smiling or neutral when doing this or they’re not going to want to look at you. (No one wants to go eyeball-to-eyeball with someone who’s angry and yelling.) Once you have their eyes, you will also have their attention.

7. Yes

In our house, “rude boys get nothing, but polite boys often get what they want.” So if they ask to do something politely — and it’s not going to hurt anything or anyone or have adverse consequence, where possible I say, “Yes.” I’m not talking about being a pushover. Just sometimes agreeing to polite requests for, say, having dinner on a picnic blanket in the living room or eating their dessert while taking a bubble bath or getting extra bedtime books.

8. Learning

When your kids make a mistake, it’s helpful to say: “That’s okay. We’re all learning.” It’s also handy to use in response to nasty looks from others (judging our children or us, as parents.) After all, we are all learning, including those who are sneering at us.

9. Capable

Remind your children they are capable. Failure doesn’t mean they won’t get the hang of something, after practice. They can do it! Tell them you know they’ll get it, in time. And remind them that things you do now with ease took great effort to master.

10. Present

When they ask you a question, give them your eyes and attention. When they tell you a story, listen. Be present with your kids. They can tell. And it matters so much.

11. Always

So, not surprisingly, things are often loud and chaotic in our house. And I am often at my limit with my two boys. Timeouts occur. Treats get taken away. Outings get canceled. But, a few things are inviolable — including my love for them. So what?

Here’s what: I make sure to tell them… especially on days where things went wrong or feelings got frazzled. Part of our nighttime routine, when I tuck them in (and tell them they’re safe) is to remind them that, “No matter what, Mommy will always love you. Always.” Children need to know and hear that our love for them is sacrosanct. Permanent. Indelible. Always.

12. Laugh

Many things that irritate us as parents probably wouldn’t if we could just laugh at them. A good giggle is an amazing reset button.

The truth is these 12 words have relevance far beyond parenting. Still, they can be very powerful when in pulled into the parental lexicon.

Let me know what you think. And which others you’d add.

Featured image courtesy of Camera Eye Photography licensed via Creative Commons.


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Becky Gaylord

http://www.gaylordllc.com

Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.

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17 comments
nsingh
nsingh

@BeckyGaylord Great Article.  I will be trying your 'whisper' rule as the alternative is clearly not working on my 7yr old daughter.  BTW The article is appreciated all the way in India where it was posted/reposted on FB by my friend in Mumbai where I am currently residing.   It was a pleasant surprise when I realized it was you, an OHHS alum, that wrote it.  Babs would be proud:-) Take care.  Neelam

patallene
patallene

Becky, 

Great post!  Thank you. My three and a half year old doesn't quite understand the concept of capable, but we tell her we are proud of her efforts to achieve every small milestone no matter what the outcome.  (we are still learning the limits of how much milk goes in a cereal bowl, but with time we will get there! we don't cry over spilled milk!)  I think it is all to the same end - but PRIDE is something important to carry forward, especially from a young age. 


dbvickery
dbvickery

Where is "indoor trampoline" - I've heard that works wonders.

Two in my family are great at saying I'm Sorry. Two of US are not. We will edge around a true apology. I've even admitted to "I behaved badly", but I've been told that isn't an apology. Hmm, guess I gotta work on that.

We definitely impressed upon them a safe and stable household with lots of laughs! You can never go wrong with those.

Milaspage
Milaspage

Hi Becky, This is a fantastic list. It is amazing how when we alter how we communicate the results can be so different. I have one that a friend of mine recently told us about. He used to always tell his son "if you do this, then you can have this" He decided to change that to "When". He said that as soon as he stopped talking in "if's" and changed it to "when's" things started getting done. I thought that was pretty cool. Thank you for this thoughtful post!

Kiddieomall
Kiddieomall

Saw this post yesterday and it was just perfect timing. I almost "lost it" when my 7 year old just wouldn't listen. I'll try your number one suggestion "whisper" :-)

Bart
Bart

Great piece.The best parenting suggestion I have read is to tell your child that you love to "insert verb" whatever they are doing that is stressing them out.My youngest is having trouble reading. After reading the article of suggestion origin, while she she was reading, I took her little hand, looked in the eyes, smiled and, " I love to listen to you read". You could see all the stress just dissipate from her face. It was a complete game changer.my sweetly now frequently brings books to read me. The investment of one authentically delivered sentence has reaped priceless returns.With gratitude,BartI

Grown and Flown
Grown and Flown

Love this.  House full of boys here and I know exactly what you mean when you say No is like lighting a fuse.  Great words to parent by. 

Jean Tubridy
Jean Tubridy

Thanks for a great post. I love your emphasis on love and eyes. I'd have to put 'laugh' a lot higher on the lost but that's probably my Irish nature coming out!

PS. I'd like to have seen the word 'quote' in there as poetry and quotes from 'wise' people worked wonders with me as a child and they are something I have continued with my own child. 

Van Brown
Van Brown

I liked this post.  I think parents should be aware of the many ways children learn from them.  The words we use to address problems and resolve conflicts makes an impression on them about the integrity of our methods.  And when that works, they learn that it works.  Some parents give up, and just teach their children the way to solve problems is by using angry words, and/or violence.  Thank you for sharing.

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@nsingh Wow, what a small world! Thanks for letting me know. And take care, Neelam! 

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@dbvickery So, funny Brian! I actually wrote this (or more accurately was, uh, inspired, to write this) the week before the 7' trampoline was assembled in our living room. I was going nuts. And I needed to write this to remind myself to do these things. When I am sane and calm, these tips are my guideposts. But after a couple of weeks cooped up in bad winter weather with two zany little boys, I am much less sane. So, this was as much for me as for my 12 Most readers. It sure helped me. And I hope it helped some others, too! Cheers.

And thanks for sharing your insights. As to your comment about needing to work on apologizing, I would say: "We're all learning!" ツ

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@Milaspage What a wonderful observation. You're right about the power of language. I'm going to borrow your friend's discovery about the impact of using "when" instead of "if." Thanks! 

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@Bart What a lovely story, Bart. Thanks for sharing it. I think most any authentic gestures and loving comments counts as mighty good parenting! Congratulations to you for finding some of the words that worked for you and your little one.

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@Jean Tubridy Thanks, Jean. Love your suggestion about quotes. My sons can repeat some of my frequent sayings, such as this one in the post: "rude boys get nothing." Ha. But, I agree that seeking out wisdom from others' comments can be very helpful.

As to the placement, these items are in no particular order, except I wanted to end on "laugh" in part because I think it's very important. And I wanted that to be the last thought the post conveyed. Thanks for your comments.

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@Van Brown You're very welcome, Van. And thank you for your kind words.

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