Words Matter

Most of us parents fit into one of three types: aggressive, passive, or assertive.

In the aggressive model, parents often yell, use attacking words, or make unreasonable demands. Their children respond by acting-up more, yelling back, and tuning out their parents’ words.

Passive parents’ words are not consistent or clear, they fail to set boundaries, and their children walk all over them. Unfortunately these parents are so passive that sometimes when they are pushed to their limits, they suddenly turn their communication into an aggressive tone.

Lastly, the third way that parents can communicate with their kids is in an assertive way. In my opinion, this is by far the most effective way to communicate with children of all ages. Assertive communication is firm, consistent, clear, positive, warm, and confident.

Communicating with our children in an assertive way is a real skill. It shows them that:
• you know what you are talking about
• they should listen when you talk
Once you’ve gained their ear, you can
                     …teach them new ways of thinking or
                                    …how to avoid dead-end patterns of thinking, 
                                                     …..and it ultimately affects how they problem-solve and relate on most levels.


• Use your child’s name. Your own name is music to your ears. Kindly used, children are no different.

• Show your kids that they have your full attention and you care enough to listen to them. If you really can’t talk at some point, don’t pretend to be listening.

• Connect through eye contact – Get down to their level or sit at the table with them. Closeness is often a bonus!

• Use volume appropriately – If you use the volume of your voice appropriately the majority of the time, they’ll pay attention when you raising your voice in an urgent situation because it doesn’t happen all of the time.

• Use positive language – try not to say “no” or “don’t” all the time. Instead, use words that encourage what you want them to do. Ex. “Thank you for using your inside voice now.” This requires some thought and practice, but is well worth the effort.

Eliminate words that shame, name-call, or ridicule: “You’re being a big baby.” or “I’m ashamed of you.”  Children will often shut down communication with those who talk this way.

• Suggest options – If you desire cooperation, it is far easier if they understand why they need to do something and how it is to their advantage to do it. Offer alternatives rather than saying a straight out “no” or “don’t”. For example, “We will eat lunch now, and then we will go outside.”

• Keep it simple – Young kids have trouble following too many directions given at once. Give your requests in small chunks.

• Be consistent – Don’t say you will do something and then not follow through! Gentle, firm consistency is a big key to gaining respect and eventual honor of your children – no words needed. Children thrive on routines.

• Keep away from nagging – If children know what is expected and when, you shouldn’t have to nag. When they are playing they don’t like to be interrupted, just as much as we don’t when reading a good book. So I created a job chart and instituted a regular time for chores. I’d walk around afterward and pick which jobs were completed with excellence for their age. That child would receive an affirming word of praise or a surprise with hugs and laughter. Soon, I hardly had to say a thing!

• Model and expect good manners – Start teaching your children to say the basics like “please” and “thank you” before they can talk. Use these words with your children as you would anyone else.

• Be gentle but firm and of one mind with your spouse – if you have made your decision about something, stick to it. Children will know they can’t play one parent against the other. Wishy-washy directions give them the impression you can be challenged.

• Check for understanding – if you find that your child is not responding to your requests or confused, check for their understanding before moving on to the next topic. Try to rephrase your choice of words with shorter and simpler sentences.

• Give notice – Give them some advance warning so they get used to the idea. For example “Amy, we’re leaving in 15 minutes. Start saying good-bye to everyone, please”.

• Don’t interrupt your spouse or your children.

And finally, express gratitude often for I truly believe ‘more is caught than taught’!

Let’s learn to encourage and draw them close with our words. How do you woo your children to become all that they can be?
“The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.” ~Isaiah 50:4

If this can help someone else, please Share it!


1 thought on “Words Matter”

  1. Pat, as I read this post I kept thinking of all the things I did and/or didn’t do as our girls were growing. I thank God that He is sovereign over all and can swoop in and cover over my multitude of parenting errors 🙂 You have wise words here that I hope many will read and take to heart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s