Everything that day felt like a battle, and right now all I could feel was anger. We reached the final listening battle of the day–bedtime–and the only thing my son wanted to do was run around the house like a wild horse in an open forest.
The more I tried to hold firm on my bedtime boundary, the more he laughed and the faster he ran.
I was ready to explode.
Listening phrases to help kids listen.
“You wish you could…”
Here’s the hard parenting truth: when kids act out it is usually because the are looking for more connection. When my son was running around before bedtime, it seemed like an act of all out defiance. But it was, in truth, a cry for connection.
I started meeting him right where he was in the moment, and I said things like…
“You wish we could play right now. You wish you had me all to yourself to sit and play and laugh with for hours. You wish you could stay up all night and that it was never bedtime.”
Right there. We connected. He felt understood, like I finally “got it.” Of course, my boundary didn’t change and it was still bedtime in 15 minutes. But we found a way to play through the whole bedtime routine and make it fun.
Saying “You wish you could…” phrases to your child instantly connects you in the moment and helps your child want to listen through understanding and validation.
“This is hard for you.”
I use this all the time now when my son doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. Before when he didn’t want to school, I used to say things like, “Of course, you want to go to school. You love school. Turn that frown upside down. It will be fun.”
This only made him dig his heels in even deeper, and we would sit there arguing for a good ten minutes before I finally carried him in kicking and screaming.
Now I approach it totally different and lean right into his emotions to meet him in the moment. I’ll say things like, “This is hard for you. You don’t really want to go to school right now. You wish you could stay home with me all day. It’s frustrating and it’s not going the way you want it to.”
So often that validation is enough for him to get out of the car and walk into school. Granted he does so begrudgingly, but it saves us both from a big dramatic meltdown.
Using the “This is hard for you” phrase is a great way to communicate empathy and validation while still holding your parenting boundary, and it breeds a lot more cooperation than when I skip this important step.
“You calmed yourself.”
One of the easiest ways to help kids to want to listen is to draw out all their strengths or the good things they do. Back when my son was in the strong-willed toddler phase, I called this “strength-training.”
So when my son would finally quit running around and go to bed, I would say, “You calmed yourself. You didn’t want to go to bed, but you found a way to get all your energy out so you could lay down and go to sleep.”
This is also a great listening phrase to use after a child recovers from a tantrum. Each time your child gets control of their emotions or takes a deep breath, say, “You calmed yourself. You were so upset, but you remembered to take a deep breath and calm down.”
“You handled that.”
This is another strength-training phrase to help your kids want to listen. Remember: the more you name the good or the strengths in your child the more you will see those behaviors come out.
When my son would leave school and get in the car with a smile on his face, I would turn to the backseat and say, “You handled that. This morning you really didn’t want to go to school. But you went anyway and now look at you. You’re happy and smiling. You found a way to handle the situation even though it was hard for you.”
“You stopped yourself.”
Teaching kids self-control is something that takes an immense amount of consistency and practice. This is a skill learned over time, and it’s especially hard for kids ages 1-6 to use self-control. So to bring out that character trait, “You stopped yourself” is an awesome phrase to strengthen it.
My favorite time to use this listening phrase is when I am with a child who clearly wants to hit, bite or kick. I usually say something like this, “You stopped yourself. You’re so angry right now and you wanted to hit. But instead you went over to the chair and punched your hands into the cushions. That took a lot of self-control.“
With Helpful Phrases the possibilities are endless.
Parenting is complicated. You read all these parenting books, but you don’t know where to start or the books just collect dust on the shelf.
You never really seem to be able to implement the parenting action plan you truly want. This is exactly why my friend Rachel and I spent the last year writing a book called Helpful Phrases****!**
It contains 100+ awesome parenting phrases to use with your kids to make life easier on yourself. Each phrase comes with a brief explanation for why the phrase works, and many are backed by science and research. This book is chock full of quick parenting wins to help you start enjoying more peaceful days with your kids–immediately.