Disciplining our kids effectively can be exhausting at times. We want to impart our values to our kids, but we sometimes fail due to sheer overwhelm or fatigue. Here are some of my best mom sayings to memorize to make your life with kids easier, and why they work.
“If you can’t be nice, be quiet”
I love this modern version of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all“. No offense to Thumper, but the new version is shorter and easier for a very young child to understand. Brevity is beauty.
Why it works: it’s punchy and even a young child can “get it”. It’s easy to memorize, and you may even find your kids saying it to each other after a while!
It also lets the child know that it’s ok to occasionally be in a bad mood or angry. Anger isn’t evil, even moms get mad. (The Bible says, “Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart upon your bed, and keep silent” Ps. 4:4) The problem comes with spewing your angry or grumpy feelings all over everyone else.
“I have my reasons”
I discovered this little beauty a few years ago and it’s one of my favorites! Use this one when your kids are questioning your decisions, arguing with your “No”, and generally being presumptuous little darlings who are overstepping their boundaries.
Here’s the thing. Often when kids are peppering you with questions about your reasons for doing or not doing something, they don’t really care. You can give them the best reasons in the world, but the bottom line is, like all humans, they’re selfish little
buggers imps people who want what they want, regardless of the burden it places on others or the impracticality of the desire.
“I have my reasons” also reminds your child that they don’t have to know or understand everything you as an adult do. While it’s good to give a child reasons for your decisions, especially as they get older, it’s not required every single time, especially if you don’t have time or the inclination or energy to give reasons. Also, sometimes as a parent you just get a gut feeling about something and can’t explain rationally, off the cuff, why you’re saying No. However, as a parent with great responsibility, you’re entitled to a little irrationality!
Why I like it: The reason this is one of the best mom sayings I’ve learned is because it gently reminds your child that you aren’t their peer. Without being a raving lunatic stomping her feet and waving her arms around in the air (did you get a visual? that’s me on a bad day), you gently but firmly re-establish your authority.
You can see more about how “I have my reasons” works in real life here.
“If I asked her what happened, what would she say?”
So much of the time, if not always, when two siblings fight, there are no clear victims and aggressors. Both are at fault to some degree, either for instigating something, or overreacting to it.
When a child comes to me and begins complaining about something a sibling did, I usually just empathize with her feelings without blaming the other person. That’s often enough to diffuse things.
Then after the child has calmed down (or if they refuse to acknowledge their part in the problem, or continue to be angry), I ask this question. “If I were to ask your sister what went wrong, what would she say?”
Because kids are born self-absorbed, and empathy comes with maturity, they don’t have a lot of practice with thinking of the other person’s perspective. This question immediately gets them out of their head and helps them see the situation from another person’s viewpoint (what a concept – and many adults lack this ability, which is why good parenting is a service to all mankind).
Why I like it: Because it works so well to help a child learn empathy. It reminds them gently that they aren’t the center of the universe, that other people have feelings too. Yet it’s not punitive.
Amazingly, even a child as young as 4 will immediately own up to their behavior.
“Is what you’re doing working?”
This one is for the older children. Sometimes a child will get stuck in a pattern of behavior. Let’s say an older child keeps harping on a younger one about something they’re doing. The more the big sibling nags, the more the younger one acts up. Hmm.
When I see this, I’ll ask, “Is what you’re doing working?”. If the child doesn’t see my point right away, I’ll ask, “What is it you’re trying to accomplish here? Is what you’re doing working?”
Why I like this: without being punitive, it reminds the child that ultimately they’re in control of only their own behavior. And behavior should be analyzed from time to time, otherwise we waste a lot of time and energy and have limited effectiveness (I read a lot of behavioral economics ok?).
You worked so hard on that!
I use this phrase, or one like it, instead of the bland, overused “good job”. Why? Because I want to teach my kids the thinking of the growth mindset.
By praising the hard work, not the outcome, I’m subtly imparting to them that the struggle is where it’s at. That all of life is filled with challenge, and that hard work is a blessing.
Most people have a fixed mindset, meaning they overemphasize natural talent and minimize the results of sweat equity. Staying in a growth mindset means that I am OK with being imperfect because I gave it my best. And I won’t hamstring myself right out of the gate with fear of trying (because I might look stupid).
Why I love it: because “good job” is an external judgment, whereas “you worked so hard!” is an observation. Important difference. I want my kids to be intrinsically motivated to do good for its own sake, not to please me.
Say it with a word
This is not a phrase you would say to your kids. It’s a practice to adopt. I owe the brilliant authors of How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen for this wonderful idea.
Instead of moralizing, preaching or lecturing when your kids do that thing that drives you nuts, that thing they’ve forgotten again, use just ONE word to express yourself. Preferably with a smile on your face!
Example: you are attempting to cook dinner when your son has forgotten the dishes again. You hate cooking in a dirty kitchen. So you go find him, tap him on the shoulder and say, “Julien. Dishes!“. Then you turn on your heel and walk away.
You walk in the door with arms full of toddler and groceries, and your daughter kicks off her boots right in the middle of the walkway, causing you to nearly trip. Instead of lecturing her about how shoes go into the shoe rack for the millionth time, simply say, “Sadie. Shoes!”.
It’s usually immediately clear to the child what you’re referring to. But if it isn’t, the child will happily go on a treasure hunt to find what you’re talking about. It turns a would-be unpleasant moment into an almost fun one.
Wet towels all over the bathroom floor: “Ilana. Towels!”
6 year old bouncing off the walls: “Ruby. Outside!”
Preteen borrowed your new DSLR camera and left it on the floor where the little ones can get it: “Sadie. Camera!”
Why I like it: it works. Brilliantly! And it saves you time, energy and helps you avoid getting in a spiral of talking negatively to your child, reinforcing the bad behavior. It preserves the relationship. Your child will love this approach, because kids hate being lectured. (Read: how laryngitis can make you a better mom.)
A slightly more hands-on approach to this tip? Using your body to communicate, instead of always using words. Otherwise known as “get off the couch parenting”.
Example: your tired preschoolers are fighting in the living room in the late afternoon, and you’re trying to enjoy a cup of tea on the couch. Instead of hollering a diatribe, which will reach the children’s ears as wonkwonkwonk Charlie Brown adult nonsense, GET OFF THE COUCH, take the children by the hand, without speaking, and escort them to their rooms or outside or wherever the “cool it” spot is.
(Have you ever watched an episode of COPS in which the police officers are going on and on and on trying to reason with words and logic to a perp, when you wish they would just slam the idiot up against a car and cuff ’em? Exactly. Effective parenting is part unemotional cop, part angel. Know when to employ either persona.)
Or to quote a modern-day philosopher, a little less talk, a little more action. Got it?
What are some of your best mom sayings? And if you liked this post, do me a favor and pin it. Thanks!