20 Phrases to Say When Your Child Just Wont Listen

By Wendy Snyder

God teaches us many things through parenthood and one of the best lessons is that our kids are like apples; they usually don’t fall far from the tree! They often can be the best mirrors that reveal how WE are operating inside and outside of our homes.

Looking to the true character of Jesus can help us root our parenting in patience, compassion, and positivity.

When life pivoted (the year I transitioned from full-time corporate America to full-time stay at home motherhood), things got really tough in my parenthood journey and my perspective shifted big time.

I soon realized that God and my 3-year-old extremely strong-willed daughter (who seemed to always be misbehaving) had some incredible things to teach me.

One of them being that no matter how many ways I tried to teach my daughter how to be a respectful, kind, little human, it was all in how I acted, communicated and treated her that was teaching her the most.

Over time, I opened my heart to what God was teaching me through the hardship of a hard to handle toddler and replaced my harsh, negative, threatening tone with a neutral, problem solving, empathetic, encouraging one (this took TONS of practice and I still am a work in progress).

With a little patience and faith, changing my communication style not only helped my little girl’s behavior improve dramatically but also caused me to feel so much more confident with the way I was raising her.

Speaking to her with compassion, respect, kindness, patience and gentleness felt in line with the way Jesus led his disciples.

The lesson I had learned was impactful. Talk to mini-humans with integrity, the way you’d like to be talked to and results will happen naturally.

This was a lot easier in theory than in real life application, so I learned how important it was to adopt the motto “Grace over Guilt” and lean on a Jesus Guided Parenting model … some days we hit it out of the park as parents and others we fall short.

These 20 Positive Phrases are a great place to start if you’d like to make a Fresh Start with your communication:

1.) “What do you need to remember?”

Instead of: “Be careful.”

Example: “What do you need to remember when you play at the park?” or “Please move slow like a careful turtle when walking on top of that wall.”

Why it works: Kids often ignore when we say this same thing again and again. Instead, engage their critical thinking skills and have them re-state the important precaution. Or give them specifics on what you want.

2.) “Please talk quietly like a mouse.”

Instead of: “Stop yelling!” or “Be Quiet!”

Example: “Please talk softly or whisper,” (said in a whisper voice) or, “I love your singing, AND I need you to go outside or in the playroom to sing loud.”

Why it works: Some kids are naturally louder than others. If they have trouble speaking softly, show them where they can go to be loud and also use the power of the whisper. In combination with a gentle touch and eye contact, whispering is an incredibly effective way to get kids to listen.

3.) “Would you like to do it on your own or have me help you?”

Instead of: “I’ve asked you three times, do it now!”

Example: “It’s time to leave. Would you like to put on your shoes by yourself, or have me help you?” or “Would you like to hop in your car seat by yourself or have me put you in it?”

Why it works: Most kids respond incredibly well to being empowered. Give them a choice and their critical thinking skills override their temptation to push back.

4.) “What did you learn from this mistake?”

Instead of: “Shame on you” or “You should know better.”

Example: “What did you learn from this mistake?” or “What did you learn and how will you do it differently next time, so you don’t get in trouble at school?”

Why it works: Focusing on motivation to change behavior for the future will get you much better results than placing shame on past misbehavior.

5.) “Please ______________.”

Instead of: “Don’t!” or “Stop It!”

Example: “Please pet the dog gently” or “Please put your shoes in the closet.”

Why it works: Do any of us go through our day telling waitresses, baristas, friends, etc. what we DON’T want? No, right? We wouldn’t get the best response if we said “Do NOT give us a whole milk latte” or “I don’t want the chicken.” That form of negative communication isn’t perceived well and puts undue strain on relationships. Instead, try asking for what you do want.

6.) “We are on race-horse time today and need to move fast!”

Instead of: “Hurry Up!” or “We are going to be late!”

Example: “We’re on cheetah time today! Let’s see how fast we can move!”

Why it works: Be sure to let them be on turtle time sometimes! We could all use a healthy dose of slowing down, so provide mornings where everyone is relaxed & kids can move slow.

7.) “Do you want to leave now or in five minutes?”

Instead of: “Time to go…now!”

Example: “Do you guys wanna leave now or play for ten more minutes, then leave?

Why it works: Kids love to be in charge of their own destiny, especially power kids! This takes a tad bit of proactivity, but it works like a charm! Give them a choice & they’ll respond much better when you say “Ok, 10 minutes is up, time to go.”

8.) “Let’s add that toy you want to your birthday list.”

Take a break from: “We can’t afford that” or “No, I said NO TOYS!”

Example: “I am not willing to buy that, would you like me to put it on your Christmas or Easter wish list?”

Why it works: If we’re being honest, we often CAN afford the $5 lego at checkout, we’re just not willing to purchase it. But then buy a $5 almond milk latte from Starbucks. Instead of blaming our finances and creating feelings of scarcity, own your limit, then offer ideas to help them learn how to get it (birthday, earning money, etc.).

9.) “Stop, breathe, now ask for what you want.”

Instead of: “Stop whining!”

Example: “Let’s stop, breathe together, now try again to ask for what you want.“

Why it works: Be sure to model this too. Keep repeating it calmly while breathing with them, till they can self-calm and change the way they’re talking.

10.) “Respect yourself and others.”

Take a break from: “Be good.”

Example: “Remember to respect yourself and others when you’re inside the jumpy today.”

Why it works: Be specific here as kids often don’t absorb the general statements we throw at them. Ask for what you want and have them restate what is important to remember.

11.) “Use your teamwork skills.”

Take a break from: “Don’t be bossy!” and “No one will want to play with you if you act like that.”

Example: “You’re a great leader. Remember to use your teamwork skills today. Ask your friends questions, instead of telling them what to do and let others have a turn leading too.”

Why it works: Many kids who have a strong desire to lead (or feel powerful) are often told they’re bossy or that no one will want to be their friends if they act mean. Instead, become a coach of your child and teach them how good leaders lead with integrity—asking instead of commanding, showing instead of telling, and taking turns, so everyone has a turn to lead AND also rest, etc.

12.) “I need you to _____________.”

Instead of: “Stop doing ___,” and “It’s not ok to ___.”

Example: “I need you to pet the dog gently, he loves calming pets and will sit with you longer if you touch him that way.

“I need you to slow down and walk like a turtle right now instead of a racehorse since we’re in a dangerous parking lot.”

Why it worksI statements come across very different than you statements, and kids respond much better when we communicate with them in non-accusatory ways. Also, asking for what you want is huge to guide kids in the direction you want (vs. focusing their brain on what you DON’T want!)

13.) “It’s healthy and ok to cry.”

Instead of: “Don’t be a baby,” or “Don’t Cry.”

Example: “It’s ok that you feel sad, I’ll be over here if you need me. I know you can find a way to take care of yourself.”

Why it works: It’s incredible how well kids respond when we don’t pressure them to “get over their feelings” or try to force them to stop freaking out. Empower and teach them they are capable of moving through the feeling on their own and they’ll come out of the sadness sooner—and also build their self-esteem.

14.) “How will you work this out yourself?”

Instead of: Always fixing, i.e., “Do __________, and you’ll be fine, it’s not a big deal,” or “Why are you always so emotional? Here, a cookie will make you feel better.”

Example: “It’s ok to be ____________. What are some things you can do to help yourself feel better?”

Why it works: Empowering kids to take care of themselves is an incredible gift! Kids who learn to move through emotions with integrity, and take self-calming action get into trouble less and have higher self-esteem. (Be sure you are learning through positive parenting curriculum like that found in Jesus Guided Parenting & The Foundations Course, how to support them in this journey to develop intrinsic care, self-control methods and how to self-calm.)

15.) “I will take a break, breathe and wait for you to finish.”

Instead of: “Just let me do it.”

Example: “Looks like you need a moment, I’ll sit down and wait for two minutes or put the dishes in the dishwasher while I wait.”

Why it works: Many times, it’s us parents that need to chill. Slow down and let them try to tie their shoe themselves or figure out the elevator floor by reading the sign. Kids often do a great job of reminding us to be present. Be ok with a lumpy bed sometimes, or shoes on the wrong foot. The goal here is to let kids try, fail, try again and anchor feelings of capability — so they don’t always depend on us to do everything!

16.) “I love you no matter what.”

Instead of: “No one wants to be with you when you’re bad,” or “You’re not getting hugs and kisses after acting like that.”

Example: “I love you no matter what behavior you have, AND I’d like you to ask your brother for the toy next time, instead of grabbing it.”

Why it works: Unconditional love is at the core of Positive Parenting and means that our love for our kids does not depend on the level of good behavior they have in the day. We love them with all of our heart no matter what. Feeding this truth into our children pours into their need to belong, which is a key motivating factor that Dr. Rudolph Dreikurs (grandfather of Positive Parenting) helps us understand. When kids’ basic needs are met, they misbehave less.

17.) “I am not ok with ___________—yet.”

Take a break from: “You’re not old enough,” or “You’re too little to do that.”

Example: “I’m not ok with you walking on top of that brick wall because I’m scared you’ll fall and hurt yourself.”

Why it works: When we own our fears and worries, our kids respond and respect our limits a lot better. Kids often feel like they are old enough, strong enough, big enough and capable enough to do big things like ride bikes fast, climb high fences and carry big glasses of juice…but it’s us that isn’t ready to take the risk yet. Communicate this to your kids using the word I, and they will push back less.

18.) “You care, so I’d love for you to choose.”

Instead of: “I don’t care.”

Example: “You know what? I’m flexible on this, so can you decide for us. I’d love your help.”

Why it works: When we really don’t care, this is a great opportunity to empower our kids and let them lead! Good leaders are also good followers so teaching our kids this through letting them make decisions is good practice.

19.) “I believe in you and am here to support you.”

Instead of: Rescuing, i.e., “I’ll take care of this.” or “Why do I have to do everything for you?”

Example: “I can see how this is tough for you and I believe in you to get through this. I am here to support you if you need ideas on how to handle the situation with integrity.”

Why it works: It’s important that as parents we set our kids up for success in the world to take care of themselves, solve their own problems and have confidence that they are capable. Supporting instead of rescuing often takes more patience, but it builds kids’ self-esteem and intrinsic motivation in the most beautiful ways!

20.) “How are you feeling?”

Instead of: “Chill out; you don’t need to get so upset!”

Example: “I can see you’re upset, what are you feeling?”

Why it works: Helping kids identify their emotions and communicate them effectively is an important element of positive parenting. When children get comfortable actually feeling an emotion and communicating it to others (instead of denying it and trying to MAKE it go away), behaviors have a tendency to be much cleaner and respectful. 

About the Author: Wendy Snyder is the voice behind Fresh Start Family  She is passionate about equipping parents with tools to create strong families built on foundations of mutual-respect, compassionate, connection & trust. Her online classes The Foundations Course & Jesus Guided Parenting teaches parents how to implement Positive Parenting psychology & strategies into their lives and her monthly membership program The Bonfire provides support, coaching & encouragement to keep parents motivated, consistent & successful. She lives in sunny San Diego with her husband and two children. Grab her free guide to parenting with firmness & kindness HERE

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