Menu
12 powerful parenting phrases that make talking to kids easier

Talking to kids can come so easily. They have thoughts about everything and stories for miles. They see the world in a completely different light, and could ask enough questions to fill an afternoon.

But sometimes finding the right words for talking to kids can be really, really challenging. When choosing how to respond to the marker on the wall, or the seemingly unending why-can't-I battle, or in simply keeping healthy communication open with kids who don't want to talk, the words don't seem to come so easily.

In challenging situations, our frustration and/or overwhelm seems to bubble over, clouding any cohesive sentence structure we might have put together. The pressure is on, we need to “use our words," but all we can muster is a non-verbal utterance resembling something like a cross between a growl and a guttural sigh.

I find that in these really challenging moments, it helps for parents to have a few familiar and effective phrases in our back pocket. Words that have already been carefully selected before we lost our minds.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. "At the same time…"

Using the word "but" can complicate already tense conversations. Often seen as negating whatever came before, it can create confusion and hurt feelings. The phrase, "I love you, but…" or "I'm sorry, but…" comes off as "I love you, but not enough," or "I'm sorry, but not really."

Instead, use the phrase, "at the same time". This phrase validates both what comes before and after as coexisting.

"I love you. At the same time, I can't let you hurt other people."I'm sorry you're upset. At the same time, running away isn't safe."

2. “I need you to…/You need to…"

One of the biggest invitations for power struggles comes when we make our requests sound optional. We say things like, "Are you ready for lunch?" or "How about we get you dressed?" or "Do you want to pick up your toys?"

Those phrases are great IF we actually mean to give our child those choices. When we don't, we need to be more clear. "You need to come to lunch, please." "I need you to get dressed, please." "You need to pick up your toys, please."

3. “I see…."

"I see two children who both want the same toy."
"I see you look very upset…"

Stating your observations as you come upon a problem helps to prevent you from placing blame or making assumptions. And that keeps everyone more open to problem-solving because you're starting from a place of trying to understand, rather than trying to place blame.

Simply start by describing what you see in a completely nonjudgmental way. Then invite the children to help you fill in the rest.

4. “Tell me about…"

Similar to #3, the key to this phrase is not assuming. Whether you're trying to understand what's going on in a tiff between friends, or curious about the work going on in a painting or block structure, it's better to ask for the child's input rather than jump to assumptions.

"Tell me about your picture…" works better than "What a lovely bear!" (especially when the bear was actually a dog.) "Tell me about what happened…" works better than jumping right in with, "I can't believe you hit her!" (especially when the hitting was preceded by 2 hours of taunting.)

5. “I love to watch you…"

This is a great phrase to keep at the ready for every day, proactive relationship building (which always pays off when times get tough). It's a phrase I learned from my friend, Rachel Macy Stafford, and have used it countless times since.

Simply letting a child know that you are watching them and enjoying them can go a long way in building their positive self-perception. Sometimes the best thing we can do to motivate good behavior and build good relationships is simply to notice the wonderful good that already exists.

"I love watching you play with your brothers." "I love listening to you play the piano." "I love to watch you build with your legos."

It's a simple phrase that lets a child know we notice them, while at the same time reminding us to slow down enough to be noticers.

6. “What do you think you could do…."

As experienced problem-solvers ourselves, it can be tempting to swoop right in and fix every problem. But it's important that we give kids ownership of and practice with the problem-solving process.

(Read more about teaching the problem-solving process here. )

"What do you think you could do to help your sister feel better?" "What do you think you could do to make things right with your friend?" "What do you think you could do to make sure everyone gets a turn?" "What do you think you could do to take care of this spill?"

Notice that children are not only invited to come up with a proposed solution, but to own it. "What do YOU think YOU could do…"

7. “How can I help…"

Similarly, there are times when a child clearly needs our help, but we want to be sure we help, not rescue. We want to offer our abilities without taking away their responsibilities. "How can I help you with this broken glass?" "How can I help you clean your room?" "How can I help you understand your homework?"

8. “What I know is…"

There are times when our kids tell us things we KNOW are not true. But when we jump to, "That's a lie!", they typically shut down or become defensive.

Whether it's lying, magical thinking, or a complete misunderstanding, we can avoid an argument or an overreaction by calmly starting with what we know.

"What I know is that there were four cookies on the plate when I left." "What I know is that toys can't move by themselves." "What I know is that Jesse's mom wasn't home today."

9. “Help me understand…"

Similarly, inviting a child to help you understand, is less accusatory than "explain yourself". It communicates that you don't understand, but you WANT to.

"Help me understand how this got here." "Help me understand what happened."

10. “I'm sorry…"

Kids aren't always the ones making the mistakes in these difficult situations. Sometimes our imperfections are the best starting point for important learning opportunities.

When we apologize for our shortcomings, we model how to make appropriate apologies, but also teach our children that we all make mistakes. When they see us acknowledge and apologize, they learn that they can do the same. Additionally, when we repair our relationships, we make them stronger.

11. “Thank you…"

Along with all the hard situations, we have to acknowledge the great ones (or even a great sliver of a really hard day). Just like we want to know our hard work is appreciated every day, our children want to know that their effort is noticed as well.

"Thank you for packing your lunch this morning." "Thank you for being such a respectful listener." "Thank you for helping your sister." Even, "Thank you for doing your jobs. I know you wanted to do other things first. (Unspoken: Because you threw a big fit beforehand.) I really appreciate you doing it even though it was hard."

12. " I love you…"

With all the words we search for, these three should come easily and frequently. With our words and with our actions, our kids should know that through thick and thin, we ALWAYS love them.

In all that I've read and studied about child development, I find that I come back again and again to two truths:

1. All learning and development happen in the context of human relationships.

2. Healthy human relationships, particularly in families, are built on unconditional love.

Before, during and after our most challenging situations with our kids, we should convey to them that they are always safe and loved, no matter what.

Love can compensate for all kinds of parenting mistakes. Even when we can't find the right words, or when those words just don't come out like they should. When they come from a place of love, and when that love is consistently made clear, we eventually find our way back together.

Original story by Amanda Morgan for notjustcute.com.

These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

1. Go apple picking.

Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

4. Have a touch-football game.

Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Why I got strict about a 7pm bedtime for my kids

Quite simply, it has made me a happier and more patient mom.

Before kids, I considered myself a morning person. I loved waking up, enjoying a warm cup of coffee and reading. It was both relaxing and energizing for me. It was when I felt most alive. After our first child was born, I quickly realized that I'm more of a mid-morning person. Wake-up calls at 5:30am did not make me feel alive.

I struggled to love my new morning routine—sometimes I even dreaded it. I was using my daughter as my alarm clock and it was not good.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play