What we say to our kids is important, right? The words we choose play a big role as children construct their beliefs about themselves, establish a foundation for their values, and decide how they see the world. What we say matters. That’s why we’re used to filtering what we say to or in front of our kids. Sometimes we have an internal dialogue that might include phrases like, “You’re driving me crazy, kid!” or “Are you EVER going to stop crying?” or “I can’t wait until you go to sleep!”; but we know not to say these things out loud to our kids. We’re also aware that we should avoid talking about inappropriate subjects in front of our kids, so we wait until they’re asleep before we tell our spouse about how our neighbor’s house was robbed or about the latest community scandal.
We pause and make a decision about what we say before we share things with our children. We do this because we know that what we say matters and has an impact on them.
But just as important as what we say is how we say it. Imagine that your three-year-old isn’t getting into her carseat. Here are a few different how’s for saying the exact same what:
- With clenched teeth, squinted eyes and a seething tone of voice: “Get in your carseat.”
- With eyes wide, big gestures, and an angry tone of voice, you yell: “GET IN YOUR CARSEAT!!!”
- With a relaxed face and a warm tone of voice: “Get in your carseat.”
- With a wacky facial expression and a goofy voice “Get in your carseat.”
You see what I mean. The how matters.
And even the words we choose are part of how we communicate an idea. For example, at bedtime you might use a threat: “Get in bed now or you won’t get any stories.” Or you could say, “If you get in bed now, we’ll have time to read. But if you don’t get in bed right away, we’ll run out of time and have to skip reading.” The message is the same, but how it’s said is very different. It has a different feel.
Both ways model for them ways of talking to others. Both ways are setting a boundary. Both ways deliver the same message. But imagine for a moment someone saying each to you. Which one would you prefer to hear? How would you respond differently to each?
Just like we pause and make a decision about what we say to our children, we should pause and make a decision about how we say things to them.
It’s the how that determines what our children feel about us and themselves, and what they learn about treating others. Plus, the how goes a long way towards determining their response in the moment, and how successful we’ll be at helping produce an outcome that makes everyone happier.