Sometimes I like a simple cheat sheet. It gives me great ideas and primes my mind to come up with some more ideas. With that in mind, here is a cheat sheet for parenting phrases we can use instead of the one that immediately comes to mind when our children do something…eh…crazy. So…
Instead of saying: “What were you thinking?”
Say: “Let me help you with this. I think we can find a better way together.”
Instead of saying: “Stop talking to me like that! You’re embarrassing everyone.”
Say: “Let’s go to a more private place to talk about this.”
Instead of saying: “That’s a good boy.”
Say: “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”
Instead of saying: “I can’t believe you did that. Don’t be stupid.”
Say: “Let’s talk about how you came up with that idea and what happened. Then we can think about another way to respond.”
Instead of saying: “How many times do I have to tell you?”
Say: “We’ve talked about this. What did I tell you before?”
Instead of saying: “Do it again and you’ll lose your Xbox.”
Say: “I see you’re really tempted to do that. Let’s go get a drink and talk about what you need to resist that temptation.”
Instead of saying: “Don’t yell at me!”
Say: “I see this is really important to you and I want to hear what you have to say. Can we talk about it nicely or should we take a break to calm down first?”
What are some other helpful phrases you use that are helpful?
I’ve heard it said that “big things come in small packages” and that “the best things come in small packages.” When it comes to marital conflict, I agree with both statements.
Sometimes “big things do come in small packages.” Unfortunately, these “small packages” can bring “big things” like dynamite to blow your marriage up. For instance, “small package words” like name-calling can create “big thing problems” and explode in your face. “Small package words” include phrases like “That’s stupid,” “You always burn the toast,” “You’re lazy,” or “You never clean this house.” These “small package words” create “big thing problems” that become a minefield in your marriage. One wrong step and they explode to release anger that has built up in response to these “small package words.”
“Small package actions” can also cause “big thing problems.” Rolling the eyes, a demeaning laugh, or simply walking away in the middle of a discussion are “small problem actions” that lead to “big thing problems.” It’s true that “big things come in small packages” but those “small packages” can blow your marriage up.
On the other hand, the “best things come in small packages” as well. For instance, “small package words” like “Thank you,” “I love you,” or “You’re the best” are the “best things” to hear. Through such “small packages” we know we are loved, valued, appreciated, and adored…and those are the “best things” we can receive in our marriage.
“Small package actions” can also give us the “best things.” For instance, intentional and patiently listening to our spouse is one of the “best things” we can offer. Such a “small package” but one that reveals the “best things,” our love and concern.
Another “small package” that gives our spouse the “best things” is a thoughtful response or loving question. “Small package” statements like “Tell me more about that,” “You sound excited (sad, unsure, or whatever emotion fits the context),” or “Can you explain that more so I can understand better?” These short phrases, “small packages” so to speak, express interest and value in the one we love and that’s one of the “best things” we can offer our spouse.
Yes, “big things” and “the best things come in small packages.” Just make sure the “small package” you give to your spouse is one that gives the “best things” you have to give.
Words have power. An ancient king once wrote, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (King Solomon—Proverbs 15:4, NLT). Our relationships are built up or torn down by our words. I want to focus on how words, our words, can build our families up. For instance, our words can make our spouse and children feel welcome in the home. They can promote their sense of belonging. Simple words, like:
“I’m glad you’re home from school (work) now. I missed you.”
“I have a job that you can really help me with. I know you would be good at it. Will you help me?”
“I’m glad we were able to spend this time together. I enjoyed your company.”
“I’d love to share an ice cream with you. Do you have time to get some now or would another time be better.”
Our words also inform our family of their importance to us, that they hold a significant place in our lives. They let our family know how we keep them in mind, even when they are not physically present.
“I was thinking about all the fun we’ve had together. Remember when….”
“I heard a song on the car radio that made me think of you.”
“I remembered how much you like…. So, I picked some up for you on my way home.”
“I really had a good time with you last weekend. My favorite part was….”
Words help us repair damaged relationships.
“I’m sorry. That was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”
“I can understand how you thought that. I really didn’t mean it that way. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Can I try to explain better?”
“I forgive you. What you did hurt me, but I love you and forgive you.”
Words also encourage and teach persistence and resilience.
“That was even better than last time. Your hard work is paying off.”
“That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But we learned a lot that we can use the next time.”
“Oops. We all make mistakes. Let’s clean this one up and keep going.”
“Sometimes we all need a little help to learn how to do something.”
Words can instill a sense of belonging and value. They repair damaged relationships and nurture relationships. Use them wisely for “wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction” (King Solomon—Proverbs 18:20, NLT).
I’m always on the lookout for ways
to improve communication skills in marriage. Communication skills involve the
sharing of ideas. They include the ability to verbalize ideas effectively and to
listen more attentively. Learning both these skills will help any relationship,
including our marriages, grow stronger. So, when I came across this little
communication gem, I had to share it with you. It is a simple, powerful tool to
help both the speaker and the listener communicate more effectively. I call it
“a breath of fresh ears” (yes, “ears” not “air”).
Many times, communication breaks
down because we respond too quickly. We impatiently finish the other person’s sentence,
interrupting them in mid-sentence or talking over them before they have finished
talking. On the other hand, you’ve probably had times when your spouse left you
little to no room to even respond. They go on and on as though in a filibuster
for the floor. Conversation becomes almost like a competition to “get a
word in edgewise.” In this process, ideas are lost and misunderstandings
arise. You and your spouse begin to feel “talked over,” ignored, or
unheard. Emotions flare. But, “a breath of fresh ears” can change all
What is “a breath of fresh
ears”? Before you respond to your spouse, take a breath. That’s it. Pause
long enough to take a breath. When you do, several things might happen. First,
you’ll realize how difficult it is to slow down long enough to take a breath
before responding. We live in a frenzied world that has grown uncomfortable
with a slower pace that allows for miniscule moments of silence. So, we jump in
with what we believe our spouse is saying or respond to get our idea “on the
floor.” We are saturated with the self-absorbed mindset of our world and so
interrupt our spouse to make sure our “oh-so-important-point” is
heard. Taking a “breath of fresh ears” means slowing down. Take a breath. Then
speak…which brings me to the second thing you might learn.
Second, you’ll experience times
when your spouse starts talking again. You thought they were done but, in the
momentary pause of your breath, they decided to tell you more. Humble yourself
by putting your agenda aside for a moment and listen some more. As a reward,
you will learn more about your spouse. You will find they had more to say and
in that moment of silence created by your small breath, were able to formulate
a greater understanding of what they really wanted to communicate. Their
communication may even become more clear.
Third, you’ll find that the
“breath of fresh ears” really does give you fresh ears. In that
momentary pause you will find the time to reflect and reconsider your response.
You will answer more in tune with your partner. You will answer with greater
compassion and wisdom. You will answer in a way that “gives grace to the moment.”
And all of that will strengthen rather than hinder your relationship.
Three benefits from “a breath
of fresh ears…” oh, and a fourth benefit. “A breath of fresh
ears” will create a more relaxed and enjoyable conversation with your
spouse. The conversational competition will end as interruptions decrease and
everyone is allowed to finish their own thoughts. You and your souse will
relax. And, perhaps most important, you will learn more about yourself and your
partner. Try it out. Give your conversation “a breath of fresh ears”
and enjoy the growing intimacy you will experience.
I want to put a new species on the endangered species list. It’s not what you think, but I have considered the criteria. To become listed on the endangered species list, a species “must be determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors:
The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
Disease or predation;
The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
Other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.”
We have an endangered species that
threatens to destroy our family ecosystem. What is the endangered species? Kindness. Wait, hear me out. Kindness
meets the criteria.
Kindness is threatened in our society. It’s habitat is slowly being replaced by an environment filled with rude words, a lack of politeness, and the presence of hate groups in the media. The concept of kindness has been slandered as ineffective in helping one succeed in life (“it’s a dog eat dog world” after all) and the domain of the insincere trying to manipulate the naïve. I once pulled over to help a young lady whose car had broken down. She hid behind her car, afraid that my kindness was a ruse for some dreadful behavior. The habitat of kindness is threatened.
Some businesses have overutilized kindness for commercial reasons. They use kindness to win the client, make the sale, or appease the angry customer. In other words, kindness has become a tool, a means to selfish ends. This is not true everywhere; but it has proven true often enough to raise our suspicions when we experience kindness. Even the kind stranger is suspect in our eyes as we wait for him to become the beggar asking alms.
Kindness is threatened by the societal disease of busy-ness and stress also. We constantly remain on the move from one activity to another. Busy-ness leaves no time for kindness. Busy-ness leads to stress and stress threatens kindness.
That’s three of the five areas in
which kindness meets the endangered species criteria, and you only need to meet
one criterion to make the list. Perhaps you would make a case that kindness is
threatened by existing regulatory mechanisms or other manmade factors as
well. But, already, kindness meets the
criteria for an endangered species. When kindness becomes endangered, our
families suffer. So, what can we do to save kindness? To stabilize the habitat
and family ecosystem and empower it to support kindness? Let me make three
Stop negative speech. This takes work. Stop venting for venting’s sake. Don’t talk about the negatives unless you are doing so to constructively seek an alternative. That means no criticizing without a compassionate solution. No eye rolling. No sighing in exasperation. No grumbling. No putting the other person down, whether talking to them or to someone else. Stop the negative.
Look for the good. Mr. Rogers says to “look for the helpers.” Rabbi Harold Kushner adds, “If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the Soul.” So, in the words of Roy T. Bennett, “Discipline your mind to think positively; to see the good in every situation and look on the best side of every event.” Then turn the good you see into kindness by verbally acknowledging it, praising it, lifting it up for all to see.
Model kindness. Do something kind every day. Hold a door open. Thank a checkout clerk. Give up your seat on the bus. Let the other driver merge. Help a child with homework. Do something kind every day. Kindness is catchy. In fact, it’s so catchy it just might “go viral.” But it can’t go viral until someone begins with an act of kindness. Why not start the kindness epidemic in your family today?
Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.
The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.
Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?
Have you heard the old song “The Way You Do The Things You Do”? The way we do the things we do obviously communicates love and commitment, fills our spouse and family with joy, and even brightens their day. But I want to focus on “the way you say the things you say.” Yes, “the way we say the things we say” can make or break our family relationships. Let me give you a few examples.
One area in which “the way we say the things we say” can make or break a relationship involves the cadence of our statements. My friend used to ask me about my thanksgiving every year. He would ask, “How was your Thanksgiving, turkey?” Did you notice that comma? That comma, that change in cadence, changed his question completely. He was no longer asking how the thanksgiving turkey tasted; he was calling me a turkey! Consider another statement I heard this weekend. Hungry children sat at the table and said, “Let’s eat grandma!” Now, that sentence needs a change in cadence, a pause, because what they really meant to say was “Let’s eat, grandma!” As you can see, how we say the things we say makes a huge difference in how our spouse and children understand what we say.
Another area in which “the way we say the things we say” makes a difference involves volume. For instance, a whisper works well when we want to say something to our family without the whole world knowing. Sometimes though, we want to make a point. Our children have done something wrong and they need to stop. We begin to yell. But is that best? Probably not. Yelling scrambles our children’s brains. It signals that we are about to lose emotional control. Our children no longer hear what we want them to hear. Instead, they “shut down” or focus on our immediate actions. They begin to think things like “There goes dad yelling again. I hate when he does that. He’s so rude. He always yells….” They miss the whole point of why we’re yelling. Instead of yelling, use a firm voice. With a firm voice you are still in control of your emotions. You can turn to another person and speak in a normal conversational tone. Your children may call it yelling, but they are still able to listen. In fact, they are pulled in to listen. They are compelled to listen by the firmness in your voice. Keep your volume at a whisper, indoor conversational volume, or a firm volume when interacting with family. Avoid yelling and screaming…because the “way you say the things you say” does make a difference.
Tone of voice also impacts the “way we say the things we say.” Take the question “is she going out with him?” (I thank the same friend who called me a turkey for this example.) Notice how the sentence changes when the emphasis is placed on different words. “Is SHE going out with him?” “Is she going out with HIM?” “Is she GOING OUT with him?” Each one says something slightly different and reveals the speaker’s different thoughts about the people involved. Aside from emphasis, you can make the same statement with a contemptuous tone, “Yeah I love you” or a loving tone, “Yeah I love you.” Tone makes all the difference in the world when it comes to “the way you say the things you say.”
Tone, volume, and cadence, “the way you say the things you say,” will endear your family to you or push them away from you. Listen closely and be sure “the way you say the things you say” matches with what you really want to say!
I love spring. After the long, cold, and dark winter, spring is so invigorating. Daylight pushes the night back as the warm sun peeks through the trees. The air warms. Grass turns lush and green. Trees bud, blossom, and fill in the empty spaces between branches. Squirrels scurry to gather provisions hidden through the winter. “Butterflies flutter by.” Birds sing as their eggs hatch. I love spring. It invites us to open our doors and let fresh air fill our homes. It calls us to walk among the blooming colors and play in the green grass with those we love.
Did I say I love spring? Well, I do. In fact, I want the environment of spring to fill my home and surround my family all year long. I know outdoor seasons change but I also know how to keep spring in my family’s heart all year round. And, you can do it too! It’s simple really. All you need to do is commit to this one action every day. At most it will take a couple of minutes, but it will bring the fresh air of spring flowing into your home and the blush of new blossoms adding beauty to your relationships. One action for a happier spring-like atmosphere in your home. Here it is:
Every day commit to praising each family member for something they did during the day. Catch each person doing something right and tell them so. Offer them praise. Focus the praise on one specific act you witnessed during the day.
That’s it. Simply offer a word of praise or gratitude to each family member every day. Sounds simple, but “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Solomon-Proverbs 18:21). Use your tongue to offer a specific praise to your spouse, parent, and each child daily and you will bring the new life of spring into your home and family!
I love children. I find raising children one of the most amazing and rewarding tasks of life. But, I have to be honest. Raising children can be extremely frustrating as well. It can take you right to the edge of sanity. Raising children can make parents want to pull their hair out. Many a parent finds themselves yelling at their children in frustration and then feeling bad about yelling. If you’re like me, you probably realize that yelling isn’t even very effective in the long run. It “scrambles” our children’s brains. They can’t think in the face of yelling. It traumatizes our young children when taken to the extreme. Some studies even suggest it might increase the likelihood of aggression. Most parents don’t want to yell but struggle to stop. How do we stop? It seems like the brain is wired to yell in frustration. If you’re in this boat, I have some good news: 4 steps to help rewire your brain to stop yelling…or at least limit the times you do yell.
Reduce unnecessary yelling. We tend to yell more than we think. We often create an environment of yelling in our homes. We yell “Time to eat,” “Dinner’s ready,” “Turn the music down,” “Close the door,” “I’m coming,” and all sorts of other simple comments. We really don’t need to yell these phrases. A much more respectable and polite method of communicating the same message involves approaching the other person and calmly let them know “Dinner’s ready” or “Don’t forget to shut the door please.” Become aware of all the unnecessary times you yell in the home and begin to change those times. Replace those times of yelling with connection: approach the other person, maybe touch them on the arm, and simply talk.
Tame your internal voice. Parents often have an inner voice screaming demands at them throughout the day. It may not be loud, but a harsh demanding internal voice will increase internal stress and chaos. To stop yelling in the home, we need to tame our internal voice. Take five minutes a day to sit down, breath, and meditate or pray to help create an inner calm. That inner calm will quiet your internal demanding voice. The calmer you can keep your internal voice, the fewer times you will use your external voice to yell.
Increase connection. Take time to connect with your child every day. The more connected you are to your children, the more often they will listen. You can also use moments of frustration to connect with your children. In fact, these are powerful moments of parent-child connection. So, when you feel like yelling, connect physically by gently direct your child out of the traffic area (if needed), get down on their level, look them in the eye, and gently touch their shoulder or arm. Then connect emotionally by labeling their emotion. Finally, after connecting physically and emotionally, restate your directive or limit.
Slow life down in general. Sometimes life gets so rushed and serious. When it does, yelling increases. So make time to laugh with your children every day. Take time to connect rather than rushing about. Put in the effort to patiently bless your children with your time and delight rather than blurting out angry words in frustration. Your children will love you for slowing down…and you will yell less.
There you have it: four tips to rewire your brain and tame your yelling. Give it a try over the next month and enjoy the results.
Strong families make multiple, daily deposits into the Family Bank of Honor (Read Family Bank of Honor for more ideas on making investments in the Family Bank of Honor). We not only expect children to make deposits into the overall Family Bank of Honor, but we need to make deposits into their honor accounts as well. But, certain phrases cheapen our deposits. These phrases take the value away from an attempted deposit and make it empty. Instead of using phrases that cheapen our deposits, the whole family will benefit when we use phrases that enrich our deposits. Let me give you a few examples.
“No problem” tends to cheapen the deposit. It raises an implicit question, a subtle doubt so to speak. Did we do “it” simply because it was “no problem”? Would we have valued our child enough to do it if it was difficult or problematic? A better phrase, one that will enrich the deposit might be “I am glad to do it for you,” “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or even the infamous, “My pleasure.” These statements enrich the deposit by noting you did it because you valued the person and enjoy doing things with and for them.
“That’s a good boy/girl” is another phrase that cheapens a deposit. Saying “good boy/girl” implies that your child is good only because of whatever they did or are doing that prompted the statement. It suggests their “goodness” is based on performance, not inherent worth. Rather than applying the label of “good” to your child, make note of their effort. Or note one aspect of their work that you admire. For instance, “You worked hard on that project.” “I like the colors you chose.” Noting effort enriches the deposit and encourages a “growth mindset” and persistence (Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success), both important for success.
“Stop crying. It’s OK.” This phrase is often said in an attempt to comfort our children. But it cheapens the deposit into their honor bank by disregarding and minimizing their emotions. You can accomplish the same goal (providing comfort and nurturance) while enriching the deposit by saying things like “That really hurts” or “Can I do something to help you feel better.” Sometimes you will not even need to say anything to make an enriching deposit. Simply give your child a comforting hug. You can further enrich a “hug deposit” by saying “I love you” while you hug them.
“You’re so lazy/smart (you pick the label).” Anytime we apply a global label to our child, whether a positive or a negative label, we have, at best, cheapened the deposit into their honor account. Avoid negative labels because they actually make withdrawals from your child’s honor accounts. Positive labels lead to a “fixed mindset” (Read Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for more) that will hinder growth and success. Instead, enrich the deposit by acknowledging specific behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to see changed. For instance, “You studied hard and learned a lot for that test” or “Your practice really paid off.” On the negative side, “You chose to watch TV all day, so now your project is going to be late.” Addressing specific behaviors and their consequences enriches deposits into the Bank of Honor.
“Wait until your father/mother gets home.” On first glance, this statement may not appear to influence the bank of honor. However, it cheapens deposits into your child’s bank of honor by giving your power away to the other parent. Without power all your deposits become weaker, less valuable. Only powerful people can make priceless deposits. Rather than “wait ’til your father gets home” to address a behavior, address it in the moment. You can still address it when your partner arrives home, but address it in the moment as well. By doing so you enrich all your deposits into your child’s bank of honor.
I think you get the idea. Some statements cheapen deposits into the bank of honor. Others will enrich the deposit. Fill your children’s banks of honor with enriching statements that pay rich dividends of joy and maturity.