"Just Tell Me What to Say!"

3 Guiding Principles for Parents

Posted Sep 28, 2017

"Dr. Laura...I love your approach. I understand the ideas. But in the heat of the moment, I find myself tongue-tied and I can't figure out what to say. I wish I had you there whispering in my ear." - Teresa 

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

The truth is, what you say is not nearly as important as your attitude. Your child feels your warmth and love even when you don't say a word. 

But what about those times when you're not feeling all that much love?  Those hot moments when you're trying hard to keep things from blowing up, and you want to say something constructive, but you aren't thinking all that clearly? When you wish you had a fairy godmother whispering in your ear?

Try keeping three basic guidelines in mind: Connection, Feelings, Solutions. If you can use them all, great! But even if you only use one, you'll get yourself and your child on the right track. Every one of these works like a magic wand. Here's how.

1. Connect

Parenting is 90 percent connection. Kids can't hear us, cooperate with our requests, or even feel good in their own skin unless they feel connected with us. So when everything's going wrong, start by connecting.

When your child isn't listening to you, try putting your hand on her arm and making eye contact before you say gently, "Hey, Sweetie." (Use your child's name.)

When your child is whining, instead of admonishing her to: "Use your grown-up voice," try gathering her into your arms and saying "You are feeling out of sorts, aren't you? Nothing seems to be working for you right now. I think you're out of hugs...Let's see what we can do about that."

When your kids are fighting, get between them, put an arm around each one to connect physically and restore safety, and say, "Let's everyone take a deep breath and calm down now....We can work this out."

2. Empathize with Feelings

Your child's behavior may need to be limited, but all feelings are allowed. The amazing thing is that once feelings are acknowledged, humans are much more willing to cooperate.

When your child wants something that you don't feel comfortable saying yes to, empathize as you say no. "You wish you could have that....Not today."

Notice how different this is from making him feel guilty for wanting it: "You have plenty of toys, don't be greedy!"

Or being defensive: "You know we can't afford that, I TOLD you we weren't buying anything for you today, don't you start crying about this!"

Instead, acknowledge his desire and empower him to achieve his goal in fantasy: "You REALLY love that, don't you? You wish you could have it. I see how much you want it. I wonder if you could earn enough to buy it for yourself? Or we could write it down on your birthday list, and if you still want it when it's your birthday; maybe we can swing it then."

When your child yells at your other child:"I hate you, I wish I didn't even have a sister!" your impulse might be to say, "You know better than that! How can you be so mean?" Instead, deal with the feelings that are being expressed, by saying, "You're so very mad right now; you want us all to know you are furious. Tell your sister what you're mad about, without attacking her."  

3. Look for Solutions, Not Blame. 

When your children are bickering, instead of blaming: "Can't you two stop fighting?!" or stepping in to solve it, "Ok, it's your turn tonight, you can have your turn tomorrow night, and no more arguing about this!"  help them work together to find a solution to their problem: "I hear loud voices....Looks like both of you want the iPad, and there's only one iPad...I wonder how we can solve this?"

When your child isn't ready to leave the house in the morning, instead of barking orders like: "Get your shoes on this minute!" give her the responsibility by pointing to the picture chart by the door with a smile of encouragement: "It's almost time to go...I see you have your clothes on...what does this chart you made show you that you need to do next?"

When your child forgets something, instead of labeling him: "You are so forgetful! You'd lose your head if...", help him solve his problem: "Hmm...that IS a problem.  I wonder what we can do to solve it....what do you think?"

Notice that you have to take a deep breath and stay calm so you can keep your voice warm. But once you do that, just remember Connection, Feelings, Solutions. You'll be amazed how the words come to you.

It'll be just like having a fairy godmother whispering in your ear.