Menu
5 crucial things to say to your child—and 5 to avoid

As mothers, our words have power. They can build up our children, teach them to love themselves and others, or tear them down, and teach judgement and intolerance. So, as mothers, we have the collective responsibility to be mindful of those words; to use them for good.


Abbie Schiller and Samantha Kurtzman-Counter are both childhood communication experts, and the founders of The Mother Company, a media studio that redefines screen time to tackle today’s most important issues.

Today, they put pen to paper to help guide us as mothers on how to speak constructively, peacefully and meaningfully to our kids.

FEATURED VIDEO

Want to raise good humans?

Here’s their five things to say, and five things not to say to your little ones—

1. "I love you."

You really can’t say this too much. But this phrase is especially helpful when your child has failed in some way.

2. "I’m sorry."

Parents aren’t perfect. When we lose it, we should own it. Saying “I’m sorry,” when we’ve yelled, failed or been unfair, shows them that we are human and models the kind empathetic behavior we expect from our children.

3. "Why do YOU think?"

To all the million times they ask you “why?” ask them back why THEY think mice are small or we hold hands across the street or whatever their “why?” question is. It gets them to start to process the answers, builds their confidence and inspires them to be more self reliant.

4. “I noticed…”

As parents we are used to boosting our kids’ confidence with an all-too-regular “good job.”

But kids know authentic compliments from generic ones and it loses its meaning (and makes them doubt you’re paying any attention at all.)

Instead try, “I noticed” and then notice something. For example, “I noticed how much time you are spending on this drawing,” or “I noticed that you washed your hands without me even asking.”

You can also notice the absence of unwanted behavior, “I noticed you didn’t take your sister’s toy, even thought you wanted it.” All this helps build a solid and clear narrative for your child and reinforces the positive behavior the you expect.

5. “Five minute warning!”

Transitions can be hard for kids.

Giving children a five minute warning helps them to prepare for the next transition from a playdate, or school, or to bath and bedtime. With these warnings (and I often remind them at two and one minutes too), you are helping children wrap up their projects and mentally prepare for what’s next. This, of course, can help lessen resistance and tantrums when those transitions occur.

5 things not to say to your child

1. Don’t compare.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister,” inspires no one, creates competition and animosity and achieves the opposite of the result you were hoping for (cooperation).

2. Don’t shame.

I once read that shame is the most powerful arsenal in the parenting tool house that is abused by most parents. Shame makes children either feel badly about themselves or badly about you, the parent. And the weight of it can become internalized for years. Never use it.

3. Don’t overly praise.

“You’re the best!” “Good job!” “So awesome!”

Everything is not at the same level of awesome, so accurately praising children versus over-praising them will help them trust your feedback, lessen their inflated senses of selves and actually help them feel more comfortable taking risks. A good thing!

4. Don’t call them your BFF.

Children need you to be their parent, not their bestie.

Confusing friendship with parenting is to set yourself (and your children) up for relationships with confusing boundaries. Best friends are people you confide in, turn to in need and can count on. These are not roles you should expect of your children so why call them that? You choose your friends, not your family. So while the intent may be to allude to closeness and love, the actual term is just plain inappropriate.

5. Don’t be mean.

The rule should be, “Don’t do anything to your kids that you wouldn’t want a stranger to do to your kids.”

This includes rough handling, spanking, teasing, mocking, and any other behavior that comes from anger and/or resentment.

Raising children is difficult! If you need to take a break from your kids before you explode at them, do it. Your children are watching and learning from you. If you are mean, they will likely learn that behavior too - which will lead to a slew of unwanted behavior. Instead, remember that kindness, love, compassion, and communication are keys to earning cooperation and respect. Both ways.

More Motherly wisdom from the founders of The Mother Company.


Founder Samantha Kurtzman-Counter shares:

How do you make your mornings run smoothly?

I find that the only way to make mornings less stressful is to make expectations for the morning very clear. The kids are expected to have A,B, and C done every single morning without fail: teeth brushed, snack packed, socks and shoes on and dogs fed - or whatever you’ve outlined as their morning jobs. And then it’s really about NOT NAGGING them to get their jobs done, but rather, trusting that they will do them. And if they don’t, there’s a consequence.

The very thing that drives me crazy in the morning (having to nag and push repeatedly over and over) is exactly the precedent that we are setting for the morning routine by nagging and pushing! If your kids are really little, lay out their clothes the night before, or make a chart to show the things they have to do and then they get to check them off every morning and feel that accomplishment. After all, what they really want most is approval from us, so if they meet our expectations, that feels pretty darn good. And make sure to reinforce that behavior by noticing and appreciating it.

The lifehack or tip that has changed my life. . .

“Special Time” really changed my relationship with my son. Whenever he is being frequently difficult or acting out a lot, I know it’s time to get back to Special Time.

Basically, it’s just 10-15 minutes of undivided attention given to your kid. And make a huge deal out of it: “I will not even LOOK at my phone! I won’t even answer the door if someone knocks!” And just let your kid guide the play for that time, without you setting the agenda. I find that when we are really practicing Special Time, things always get better with my boy’s behavior. He just wants to make sure he is truly my priority, and that I’m really seeing and hearing him. Special Time is a really easy way to make that clear.

What superpower have you discovered as a mom?

I think I have an extraordinarily overdeveloped Empathy gland! I feel like my boy has really opened up my heart and made it evident that I have the power to listen and truly understand the needs of others deeply. Like never before.

This quote inspires me. . .

“There’s always a bag of beans at the end of the rainbow.”

Ok, I made that one up—but to me it means that it’s important to not only strive to reach your goals but to also always remember that the striving is often the best part. We all need to be sure to celebrate the small victories and enjoy the journey - because there’s always going to be another bag of beans to carry when you get to the end.

To me Motherly means…

Providing a warm, secure, non-judgmental and perpetual space for growth.


Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby and creator of the ultimate bamboo baby carrier. She is a regular contributor to Motherly and is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.

Join Motherly

When it comes to registering for baby products, there's one word we love: convertible.

In contrast to items you use for a short period of time, convertible (or multi-use) products are made to grow with your baby… and trust us, that makes them worth their weight in gold.

Convertible items allow you to reap the benefits of your baby registry for years to come—and that's just savvy shopping, mama. Also savvy shopping? Creating your baby registry with Target and enjoying their Year of Benefits registry program for expectant parents. Just by starting your registry, you will get a welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. And Target's newest registry perk, the Year of Exclusive Deals, gives you discounts on essentials for your baby's whole first year when you sign up for Target Circle as well.

If you prioritize value and longevity when creating your registry, here are 10 items you'll love from day one through day 1,000… and beyond!


A crib that can grow through childhood + beyond

Simmons Kids Slumbertime Monterey 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

A crib is a necessity as you plan for life with your baby—you know that already. But what about in a couple of years when they need a toddler bed? Or a few years beyond that when they graduate to a bigger bed? Well, you're in luck: With the right attachments, this bed can be the only one they need until college.

$299.99

A cozy blanket for snuggles + security

Plush Velboa Baby Blanket I Love You - Cloud Island\u2122 White/Black

Blankets have earned their spot on millions upon millions of registries for good reason: They function as stroller covers or play mats during the early days, then become beloved security items in the toddler years.

$14.99

A comfy spot for feeding + stories

Baby Relax Addison Swivel Gliding Recliner

During your first months of motherhood, a comfortable gliding chair will be your second home as you spend time feeding and bonding. As your child grows (and mobility makes those snuggles harder to catch), you'll discover a new love for this cozy spot for stories and bedtime snuggles.

$329.99

https://goto.target.com/YJj2e

Sealy Cozy Rest Extra Firm Crib and Toddler Mattress

Fun fact: A standard crib and toddler bed actually use the same size mattress. That's why it's smart to get a quality crib mattress right out of the gate: One less thing to change up in a few years!

$59.99

A changing table that doubles as a dresser

Simmons\u00ae Kids Monterey 4 Drawer Dresser with change top

If space is at a premium in your baby's nursery, look for a combination changing table and dresser. That way, you can keep using the dresser long after your little one is potty trained.

$319.99

A car seat that converts to a booster

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

The safest place for your child is in the backseat of your car, in either a car seat or (later) booster. But instead of buying a new seat for each phase, you can check off multiple boxes at once by adding a convertible car seat to your registry.

$159.99

A stroller that accommodates big kids, too

Graco FastAction Jogger LX Stroller

The need for a good stroller doesn't end when your little one learns to walk, so look for a stroller that can accommodate bigger kids, too. We recommend a jogging stroller that allows you to attach an infant car seat and is still perfectly spacious for toddlers.

$146.99

A place to dine for years to come

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

From first bites to family dinners around the table, one single high chair can be the solution you need. That is, if you look for a version that adapts into a booster seat when your child is ready for a plate at the table.

$99.99

A white noise machine + alarm clock in one

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

After spending months listening to ambient noise in the womb, white noise remains incredibly comforting for your child. It's nice to have a sound machine that can transition to a time-to-rise clock down the line. By cueing with sounds and colors, these clocks reinforce healthy sleep habits.

$59.99

A baby carrier that can haul a toddler, too

Infantino Flip 4-in-1 Convertible Carrier

A carrier is a major help when your baby loves being held, but you need use of your hands. But even months or years down the line, you can still get use out of that carrier. To maximize longevity, look for one that can be used with your child facing outward or even carried on your back as they grow.

$29.99

Enjoy building your registry with Target, mama! The Year of Benefits is calling your name with a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more! 😉

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

Our Partners

There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

Keep reading Show less
Life