My 13-year-old gets credit for this one. The other night, when I asked him to do his homework, he said, “Mom, instead of saying ‘do your homework,’ you should say ‘start your homework.’ That way it will be less overwhelming for me.” It’s amazing when they start to “get it!” He immediately said, “Hey, that should be a tip you use for other parents!” It's a prime example of how you can choose words carefully to make a world of difference for your kid.
Also, it’s amazing how simple, yet profound some of these changes can be. Here are a few other ways to choose words carefully I think are helpful:
- As my son suggested above, say “start” instead of “do” to make difficult tasks less overwhelming.
- Instead of “if,” try “after” to avoid putting kids on the defensive. For example, “You can go outside after you put the clothes away in your room.”
- Replace “but” with “and” to bring more positivity to the conversation, even when there’s a disagreement.
- Be specific with requests. Note that “put your clothes away” is easier to manage than “clean your room.”
- Avoid asking questions that start with the word “why,” like “Why did you choose that shirt?” or “Why didn’t you set the table?” Many people hear it as judgment and immediately shut down. Try: “That’s an interesting shirt, what made you choose it?”
- Avoid asking “Are you sure?” and questions that start with that. “Are you sure” can come across as undermining or like a lack of faith in your child. Instead, you can ask what your child has done to confirm what you’re thinking of was completed.
- Use Codewords to communicate big concepts quickly.
- Use “Get it? Got it. Good!” This is a simple 3-step process to make sure you and your kid are on the same page when you ask them to do something.
- After giving your child a direction, you ask “Get it?”
- Your child responds by saying “Got it,” and repeating what they understand they’ve agreed to. You can make tweaks like clarifying a time frame (“you’ll do it by 5, right?”) or clarifying what the task entails (“by unload the groceries, I mean for you to put them away, not just bring in the bags. You got that, right?”). They can confirm again after any changes so you’re sure they really “got it.”
- You respond, “Good!” and feel confident your direction has been clearly communicated and received! Now, they may still need some help with some memory pieces to do the task, but you’re on the same page with what is being asked.
Bottom line: When you make requests, choose words that will be better heard and less overwhelming for your kid.