Positive parenting is about building a deep, trusting, and authentic relationship with your child. This means a robotic script is the last thing you want to implement; however, let’s be real, parenting is hard enough, let alone when you’re trying to break generational cycles, reparent yourself, and learn new information and skills. It can seem nearly impossible at times. In those moments when positive parenting feels too overwhelming, it can be useful to have a few helpful phrases up your sleeve to get you through.
These tried and true phrases will help you respond to your child in a way that keeps the peace, shows empathy, holds boundaries and brings calm to the situation. Test out a few and use the ones that feel right when you need to.
Phrases for Encouraging Cooperation
1. “Would you show me a different way?” Sometimes children resist our way of doing things because it simply doesn’t make sense to them. Yet, we adults can be pretty set in our ways. To gain cooperation, try asking your child to show you a different way! You may be surprised by their innovation.
2. “Let’s try teamwork.” The quickest way to get things done is often to do it together. Yes, we want to teach our children how to be independent and responsible, and we also want to teach them the value of teamwork. This phrase may just be the ticket to get them moving.
3. “May I have your eyes?” Sometimes we talk at our children while they’re absorbed in some activity so they don’t even hear us. When we say, “May I have your eyes,” you’re asking for eye contact. It’s just a little silly though, which is likely to get your child’s attention. Once you have eye contact, state your request again.
4. “I bet you can beat this timer.” Need those toys picked up? Turn it into a game and you’re more likely to gain cooperation. Set the timer for three minutes or so and say, “GO!”
5. “What isn’t working here?” If you have an issue that keeps coming up over and over, get to the root of the problem. Ask your child for their perspective. At the very least, it will open dialogue so you can work toward a solution.
Phrases for Calming a Child Down
1. “Does your body want a hug?” Hugs have been shown to reduce stress by lowering cortisol. In addition, hugs are a great co-regulation tool that helps your child calm down as they mirror your warmth and calmness in the embrace.
2. “I see that you’re feeling (label feeling). Sometimes just noticing the emotion can help them regulate it. You may also add in tools to engage their senses like, “Let’s name ten blue things you see.” When your child focuses on finding the blue things in the room, for example, their brain will start to calm down and regulate.
3. “Let’s pretend we’re smelling roses.” This is a deep breathing exercise that you can do with your child. Encourage them to take five to ten deep breaths in through the nose like they are smelling roses. Then blow out through the mouth.
5. “I’m here for you and I love you.” Sometimes they just need to hear it.
Phrases for Holding a Boundary
1. “I hear that you want ___. That must be hard.” Acknowledge and validate while holding to limits.
2. “I don’t feel like ____ right now. I’m willing to ___ with you.” State what you don’t want to do but also what you’re willing to do. This shows your child that while you may not have the energy or interest for a particular activity, you care about spending time with them.
3. “I won’t let you do ___. I’m going to keep you safe.” If your child is hitting, kicking, biting, pinching, etc., this is a good phrase to use as you head to your Time-In area.
4. “I appreciate your opinion. I’m not changing my mind on this.” If something is absolutely non-negotiable, this phrase conveys your final decision.
5. “I need to take a break. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Modeling self-regulation is a good thing! If you’ve had it up to here, say this and exit!
Phrases to Defuse Conflict
1. “I appreciate that you’re willing to discuss this.” Any time you can acknowledge your child’s cooperation and willingness to work with you, and not against you, you will reinforce this kind of behavior in the future. Plus, appreciation just feels good. This phrase can automatically reduce the emotional tension.
2. “I hear this is important to you.” This works because arguments arise out of a need to be heard. This shows that you’re listening and that you acknowledge the importance of the topic, even though you may not agree.
3. “Let me see if I have this right.” A lot of conflict arises out of misunderstanding one another. When you use this phrase, you’re showing that you want to clarify their position and yours. This way, if either of you have misunderstood the other, it can be cleared up on the spot.
4. “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.” Did your parents apologize to you when you were a kid? Most of us didn’t hear “I’m sorry” much because parents often think it shows weakness, but it doesn’t. If you mess up, apologize. You’re modeling how your child can do the same.
5. “The story I’m making up is …” and finish this sentence with the reason you got angry. According to researcher and author BrenéBrown, these six words can stop almost any conflict in its tracks because it allows you to own up to the part you played while allowing your child to also let their guard down.
We hope this list of phrases will come in handy for you the next time you’re in a pinch. Remember, you’ve got this, and we’ve got you!