Family, Kids & Relationships

9 Phrases that will transform your relationship with your child

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The day-to-day grind of parenting can lead to frustrating cycles of nagging, criticism, yelling, and whining. If you’re starting to sense one of these negative trends, it may be time to try new ways to communicate with your child.

When families are dealing with behavioral challenges or everyday battles, the solution is often to focus on connection instead of correction. Kids need your love and support more than they need to be told what to do, and feeling connected to you makes them better listeners when the time does come to work on correcting the behavior.

These phrases will not only help you connect with your child, they’ll help you stay calmer and not blow up in frustrating situations. They’re a win-win for both of you, and your relationship.

“Do you want to be my helper?”

Kids generally love to feel valued and to be involved in adult tasks in some way. So with a little creative thinking, you can often think of a way to redirect a child’s energy and make things go more smoothly by enlisting them as your special helper. Not only will this help calm any chaos that might be going on, but it also builds their confidence and independence.

“What’s your next step?”

Instead of just blurting out “Stop!” or “Be careful!” when you’re worried about your child taking a risk or making a mistake, try to be there for them as a supportive guide and just ask questions like this that encourage their own problem solving. This way, they’ll learn through their own choices and experiences, and you’ll be able to step back and calm your nerves a bit.

“It seems like you’re having a tough time.”

When a child is starting to have an emotional outburst, instead of escalating the situation with yelling, harsh words, or just telling them to calm down, start with an empathetic phrase like this. It shows that you understand they’re having difficulty, and that you’re not mad about it — you’re being patient and offering support. Feeling loved, supported, and understood will not only strengthen your relationship, it will actually calm your child much faster in the long run, too.

“I’ll come check on you in 5 minutes.”

When kids are clinging to you, or demanding help with things they should be doing independently, it can fuel frustration for parents as well. You need a break, and want them to try on their own — but they just want to feel your love and support. That’s why this phrase can work wonders for both of you; they’ll get to practice their own soothing techniques or solutions, knowing that you have their back.

“How could we solve this problem?”

This phrase encourages a growth mindset response to any issue — whether it’s siblings fighting over a toy, or a child not wanting to go to bed — and shows that you’re working together on the same side.

“Thank you for telling me.”

If you need some time to figure out how to react to something questionable that your child is saying, this is a good first sentence to use. It offers positive encouragement to them for simply communicating openly with you, which will be increasingly important as they grow up!

“What would you do if you were me?”

Asking a child for advice from time to time boosts their self-esteem and resilience. Plus, you can use it to reverse roles and get kids to understand your perspective in a tricky parenting situation, which can lead to a positive breakthrough when it comes to behavioral issues.

“I love to see you trying so hard!”

Rather than waiting for a grand result to offer praise, show that you’re paying attention to your child’s efforts. This encourages a growth mindset and provides a nice moment of connection in everyday situations.

“I will be happy to ___ when you ___.”

By shifting your statement to focus on something positive that you’re going to do, you can avoid having your child shut down immediately from being criticized or asked to do something. Instead, you’re offering them the power of choice to change their own behavior. For example, “I will be happy to serve lunch once the toys are off the table.” Or, “I will be happy to play the game again once you’ve calmed your body down.”


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Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.