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. I also explain why they work so well. Read on…
“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, pithy, 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 helps 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?
Related: 18 things I’ve learned in 18 years of parenting
Another Wonderful Book on Disciplining Young Children without stress:
What are some of your best mom sayings? And if you liked this post, do me a favor and pin it. Thanks!
Ester Perez says
Oh my gosh! This is an amazing article! I love these tips and I will definitely be using the “One word!” Especially in the mornings when we need to head out for school! Thank you so much!
What a fantastic article!
This is great advice! Thanks for sharing.
“like all humans, they’re selfish little buggers imps people” Bwahahahah! So true!
I’m definitely going to be trying the “If I asked him what happened what would he say?” and the One word ideas in my house, thank you for the tips!
I am mom of two cute daughter who r very enjoy their each movement. But I tired. N yor article is very helpful by calm down
Great article!! This really works and so much less frustration over the things that can become a big problem! Thank you!!
Catherine G says
Great article. Congrats on it getting so many shares! My favorite saying now that I am a mom was one my mom used on me (although I hated it at the time): “You do what you think is right.” It is for older kids. But very effective. Especially when you feel like you’ve already told them what is a better option.
La La says
What a great article. Thanks!
Ooh that IS a good one! I have actually used that with my older kids. You’re right, it is very effective with them.
Oh, the memories this brings back! I love what naturally comes out of our mouths because we grew up hearing it too. And the looks kids give us when we say certain things.
Seriously…I’m gonna have to read this weekly as a reminder. I only have 2 boys but both very headstrong and all these tips are ones I need to implement immediately or I’m going to lose my sanity before they hit their teen years! Thank you 🙂
Ashley | Far Beyond Love says
Oh these are good! I don’t have kids but I just forwarded it to my sister who has an adorable but somewhat defiant little 4-year old. I’m sure she will appreciate these.
These tips are awesome. My husband is still learning how to be a step parent and my son is still learning how to have two authority figures in the house. I will be sharing these tips with my husband ASAP.
We love the phrase, “Asked and answered” to acknowledge that a question has been asked (yet again) but that we’ve already answered and explained as much as we’re willing. It saves so much sanity and helps prevent us from giving up and giving in, which sometimes happens with the seemingly millionth time a question is asked!
“When you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”. I say this so much I now only have to start the sentence and my kids finish it. Often when older sibs are snubbing younger sibs.
My favorite Mom phrase is, when Mom says No, the answer is no. And I usually pause after the first half so they will finish it for me… That usually answers their own question, when they are asking for a second time. I use it when my answer is Yes, and they are asking again for some reason…I want them to know my yes is yes and my no is no!
Love every one of these suggestions! I’m a Love & Logic parent (or try to be), and I can see each of those phrases working wonderfully in my house. So happy to be able to say, “I have my reasons” instead of “Because I said so”, which just makes us all grumpy.
One of the best articles I’ve ever read. “How to talk so your kids will listen” is my favorite book, I wish I had found it years ago. I need to make a printable of these sayings so I don’t forget!
Thank you! I have 3 boys. I use “Do not retaliate” and “you are not the parent” a lot. I also use the one word thing for commands too, like “shoes” to put them on, “backpack” “car” “bath” etc.
I like these! Some I heard when I was a kid, but now as a mom I hadnt thought of it. I think I tend to over explain to my almost 3 yr old. Lol.
A favorite when, between brother and I, we had 5 under 6 who argued and tattled, ” Is any one bleeding? Any Broken bones? No, then go resolve it yourselves.
I’m a mom with 46 years experience on my own kids and great nephews, and almost 60 on nieces, nephews and various younger cousins, neighbors etc. My favorite nonverbal cues is the One Raised Eyebrow. My oldest would argue with a fence post, but when he saw the raised eyebrow, he reconsidered his position fairly quickly. It fascinated him so much he trained himself to use either brow and uses it effectively on wife, children, teachers, bosses and prison inmates during a 20 year career. It just seems to say something words can’t communicate.
Amy Gibbs says
I am so glad I found your page! These phrases; especially the “one word” and “you worked so hard…” are fantastic and will be used daily.
As a mom of just one little lady I have to say that you’re an inspiration and my new ‘mom hero’. Seven beetles in your yard, that’s incredible!
Thank you for all of the advice and sharing your personal stories. I apprieciate you.
So glad i came across this! Can’t wait to put it into action! I feel like I’m either over-explaining or off-putting with demands. Fibers crossed for change since I’m tired of repeating myself. “Asked and answered” was super helpful for me!
Stephanie, One Caring Mom says
Wow! These are all the tips I always needed but never knew! They all sound ridiculously helpful. I love using “one word”. I am forever trying to explain things…waaay too much! I think this will work perfectly for me.
Just brilliant! Thanks for sharing. Will definitely use all of these tips daily.
Brilliant ! Being a mom is some times exhausting. I’m a happy mom of 6 children. Ages 17 to 4. Thank you for the awesome tips
Makes life go smooth and have a happy house. I could see these tips would be hugely beneficial for the children also. Calm short and sweet. 😉
I had my eyes ready to roll at another fluff discipline article, but I love this!! It’s no-nonsense, yet kind enough. You’ve gained a subscriber ?
LOL I know the type!! Thanks for your comment
I feel less stressed already!! I really love the “you worked hard” comment. I find my children complaining that things are hard and they don’t want to do those things. I tell them that my job isn’t to do the hard things for them but to teach them how to do the hard things. So, pointing out that their “good job” is a product of THEIR hard work is brilliant.
glad it was helpful Misty!
Thanks for this article. I learned a lot. My, well not a word it’s more of an expression thing is, I say “uh-oh” with a straight face that means I am already mad, is one that I’m practicing with my kids right now, which should make them stop whatever they are doing at the moment. Hope it could help others as well.7
“Asked, and answered” my dad used it on me and now I use it. I love it because it’s sumple and says “end of discussion “ with out the aggression. I hated it growing up but it worked then and it works now.
Great advice! I’m a mom of three under 8 years old and the “one word” tip may save my sanity. My children thank you in advance!
Great advice for my grandchildren! Thanks
My 2 young girls would spend many hours playing with their 4 cousins, all boys. When one of my girls came to me and said that one of their cousins had hit them (or said something mean) I would say, “okay, go give them a hug!” I soon started hearing the the boys say “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Don’t tell your mom she’ll make you give me a hug!” I found that by saying this, it turned a sad/mad moment (most of the time) into a silly happy one.
I love this!
I spent the majority of yesterday screaming at my kids. By the time my husband got home I felt like a monster. This morning I could definitely feel that I was still angry because I feel like nothing ever works! So I really needed to read this today! I’m going to try some of these approaches that sound so reasonable, where have they been for the last 7 years of my life?? LOL
This is amazing! Thank you. I’m sure my kids will help love me being more calm!