We regularly teach our children how to respond in certain social situations. We train them to hold the door for strangers, to smile politely when eye contact is made, and we expect them to reach for the words “thank you” (albeit after we step in with the back pocket prompt: “what do you say?”). Our hope is those responses will eventually become habit — second nature. But what about our own sayings and habits? Sometimes we parents give a “parrot” response without even realizing it. Here are five common parenting phrases that you may want to consider cutting from your day-to-day vocabulary:
1. ‘Good job!’
This verbal praise has become an automatic response. Your child ate all their dinner? Good job. Drew a creative picture? Good job. Scored the winning goal in soccer? Good job! Take notice, just for one day, how often that phrase comes out of your mouth — the number might surprise you. Even if your child really did do a “good job,” you may unknowingly be teaching them to seek empty approval in every little thing they do. Instead, try teaching them how to validate themselves. That way, when no one is available to offer outside praise, they can still feel proud and confident. Redirect daily praise by asking them how they feel about their success, talk about the effort that preceded the accomplishment, or provide them with a very specific compliment (“I love how you colored this picture using a lot of colors!”).
2. ‘Just a minute’
Never mind the actual phrase, what follows those three little words? When your child asks you for something, and you respond with “just a minute,” do you really mean it? If you find yourself saying it just to appease, or stop the child from asking, it might be time to sub out that sentence. It’s important to teach your child that you mean what you say. Kids are growing up in a world where other people’s promises don’t hold much value. If you’re constantly telling your own kids “just a minute” and nothing follows, they are learning you are someone who won’t follow through, so why should they? Try giving them a specific time frame — and stick to it. In the beginning, you may want to set a timer to help remember. If your child asks for something you know you can’t/won’t deliver, be up front and tell them why that won’t work.
3. ‘Ask your mom/dad’
Did your parents ever say this to you? If so, you know all too well the flicker of hope that flares when you think there is still a chance you’ll get a “yes.” Most parents reach for this phrase when they don’t want to make the tough decision, or be the one to say the word “no” (and deal with the meltdown that will inevitably follow). Not only does this approach prolong the disappointment, it isn’t fair to your partner. You’re unintentionally giving your child the impression that one parent holds all the power. Instead, approach it with a “we’re a team” attitude. Try responding with “I’ll talk to your mom/dad.” This shows your child that you make decisions together, and helps prevent the child from pitting one parent against the other.
4. ‘I’m busy”
Guess what? We’re all busy. And we’re only getting busier. Should you drop everything you’re doing every time your child needs something? Of course not. Are there going to be times where you really are too busy? Absolutely. But if you find yourself defaulting to this line of reasoning, you may be overdoing it. Eventually your child may interpret you being “too busy” to mean “I’m not a priority.” And if kids hear that subliminal message often enough, they may stop turning to you altogether. The old saying, “the days are long but the years are short” comes to mind. Be present. Be invested. Many responsibilities will still be waiting for you tomorrow, but your children won’t always be children. Your time with them is precious. Don’t be so busy that you look back on this productive time of life with profound regret.
Before you accuse me of raising spoiled children, hear me out. Not long ago, I was feeling completely defeated as a mom. Every day, from morning until night, felt like a battle with my independent 3-year-old. The most simple tasks felt big. Getting dressed? A fight. Eating lunch? A fight. Taking a bath? An all-out nightly brawl. Simply stated, it was exhausting. After taking a personal parental inventory, I quickly realized I was contributing to the problem by trying to control every little thing. I decided to try to minimize the number of “no’s” that escaped my lips and, instead, started saying “yes.” This one little word swap has made the biggest difference in our day. In the moments that I want to have the final say, I pause and ask myself if it’s a battle worth fighting. Sometimes it is. But in a lot of cases, it’s just not — like wearing a princess dress all day, everyday (sorry Wal-Mart shoppers), or the occasional bowl of ice cream for breakfast (gasp!). These days, I find myself looking for opportunities to say “yes,” and the immediate relief I feel in knowing that a silly battle isn’t about to ensue is pretty great.The truth is, being a parrot puts you in a very limited cage. But being an invested, present and consciously aware parent? I’m learning that’s the real way to fly at our house.