Say the Right Thing: 8 Go-To Phrases to Raise Happy Kids

More Wise Words

5. "Listen to your body."

Mom and kid playing with kite

Many moms are more in touch with their kid's body than with their own. We know how long they've slept and the last time they ate and pooped -- even when they're 8 years old, not 8 months old. However, if you habitually manage your child's physical needs, she'll figure out that she doesn't have to and she won't learn to be self-regulating, says Dr. Mogel. When she says, "I have a stomachache," don't rush to share your own conclusion (like "Of course you do. You haven't gone potty/eaten/eaten anything but PB&J for 48 hours"). Instead, help her go through a scan of likely causes. Eventually, if she learns to pay attention to her body, she may be able to recognize that the butterflies in her tummy are different from hunger pains. Or that she can't fall asleep because her mind is racing. Once your child can identify what is going on with her body, she'll be able to respond in the appropriate way: She'll know when to stop playing and get up and go to the bathroom, or recognize when she's had enough to eat. And when she comes downstairs and says she can't sleep, at least she'll be able to tell you why.

6. "Take a breath."

We all need to slow down, but in our rush to get ready for the bus, soccer practice, or doctor appointments, it's easy to forget how. Saying this puts an end to the urgency that so many kids feel during those transitional moments between activities, and it reminds you to take a breath too. "It's the equivalent of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your child," Dr. Mogel says. Kids mirror our moods, and if you can stop and call a time-out to breathe, you will be teaching your child how to slow down and manage stressful situations. It resets the tone of your day and gives you and your kid permission to be okay with right where you are -- and maybe even to see how funny it is that you can find only one shoe. The best way to make sure your words have a calming effect is to bend down to your child's eye level, hold his hands in yours, and take a few deep breaths. When you're done, you'll also feel more clearheaded and connected, and be far more likely to locate that other shoe.

7. "Would you like a do-over?"

When your child balks at eating her broccoli, refuses to share her Littlest Pet Shop toy with her pal, or whines that you need to take her to the park right now, this is a good way to gently remind her how you expect her to behave. The beauty of the phrase is that you're letting her know her behavior is unacceptable without embarrassing or scolding her. It works whether you're in the privacy of your own home or in line for a table at a crowded restaurant, because it's friendly and nonthreatening. Changing the phrase to "Let's have a do-over" makes it even more effective because it's nonnegotiable. You're both going to reenact a moment together, and she can't say no. Plus, it takes her out of the hot seat and puts the two of you on the same team. When she feels you are her ally, she'll be more willing to work with you.

8. "That's a great idea."

Being a cheerleader for your child's big and small ideas will help him realize that he can effectively solve his own problems. Whether you have a 2-year-old figuring out what he wants to wear, a 6-year-old deciding how to spend an afternoon, or an 8-year-old debating about what story he is going to write, saying this will tell him that whatever scenario he just cooked up is worthy and that he has the brains and ability to see it through.

Talk This Way

Are you tired of being totally tuned out or arguing over every little thing? Dr. Wendy Mogel offers fresh ways to share good news and bad.

10 Simple and Effective Ways to Say No

"No"

"Nevertheless..."

"Regardless..."

"That is not the issue."

?No, and that is final."

"I'm not ready for that."

"I've given it some more thought, and I am going to say no."

"I remember saying no about this."

"I'm not going to change my mind about this."

"Ixnay, Nyet, Nein" (or another language of your choosing)

10 Fun and Encouraging Ways to Say Yes

"Yes"

"Sure"

"Absolutely"

"How great!"

"Of course! We can/will/should"

"I'd be glad to help."

"That sounds like fun."

"I'd be happy to."

"Certainly"

"My pleasure"

Originally published in the July 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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