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.


Becky Gaylord


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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