Attention parents! 5 key phrases for raising amazing children

I don’t subscribe to formulas for raising children, but I want to share 5 key phrases that should be present in every parent’s tool box. These idioms will help you raise kids who have self-motivation, self-efficacy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and who feel loved, supported, and understood. So here goes.

  1. “What will you do?” Second grader Sophia was upset because her teacher snapped at her one day when she was upset about a boy who kept harassing her. I encouraged Sophia to have a talk with her teacher and share how she felt and what she wanted. Sophia had the meeting, resulting in her feeling more empowered and in control, and a building block of self-efficacy and advocacy was laid. Whenever your kids come to you with difficulties, I would always first hear them out so they know that you care and understand, and then I would turn the problem-solving over to them by asking, “So what will you do?” Too often parents rush to fix and rescue, leaving kids weak, dependent, and young. Use this phrase for challenges like: finding lost soccer shoes, friendship troubles, problems with teachers and coaches, or needing money to buy things.

2. “So, what I hear you saying is____, did I get that right?” Mirroring your children when they share their thoughts and feelings is the best way to show them you care about their issues and thus, them. It allows you to get in their shoes and see their concerns from their perspective, and to help unlayer their thoughts until the real issue emerges. Hearing kids out also aids them in dissipating their emotions, allowing them to be more open to suggestions or redirection.

3. “You’re the kind of person who___” The best way to support kid’s motivation for acting certain ways is to praise their character instead of the action. Rather than saying, “It was nice that you shared your cookies,” say instead, “I’ve noticed that you are the kind of person who likes to share with others; you really are a generous person.” This helps kids internalize generosity as part of their identities and motivates them to want to continue to earn it. Apply this principle to acts of determination, resilience, problem-solving, kindness, or risk-taking.

4. “What do you think?” If a young child asks you what you think of her drawing, reflect it back by asking her what SHE thinks of her artwork. She will describe all the things she loves about her masterpiece, and your job is to then just mirror what you heard her say. “Sounds like you love using all the colors in the box. I love what a creative artist you are.” The same goes for when report cards are brought home. What is more important than what you think about her grades is what SHE thinks. Mirror back her sense of pride or accomplishment so that her intrinsic motivation gets internalized.

5. “I wonder how that person might feel?” One of the seeds for developing compassion and empathy is to be able to, as Atticus Finch said in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, get in the other person’s shoes and walk around in them for a while. Imagining how someone else thinks or feels promotes cognitive problem-solving. Use examples from books, movies, TV shows, or real-life events to give kids practice in perspective taking.

These five phrases will direct kids inward in order to become more self-directed and confident. Teenagers will also develop the tools to take care of themselves and be prepared to leave the nest with confidence and optimism.


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