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Smart Talk: Six Ways to Speak to Our Kids

This excerpt is from How To Say It to Your Kids by Dr. Paul Coleman.

The "T" in TENDER stands for Teaching. It is a rare day that parents don't teach their children. Teaching can be a warm, meaningful experience that bonds grown-ups with kids, such as when a parent patiently instructs her child how to ride a two-wheeler or tie a lure to a fishing line or scoop up ground balls. And children ask many questions that allow parents an opportunity to explain the ways of the world.

But teaching can degrade into lectures or nagging, and the message may get lost. Some parents feel comfortable teaching but uncomfortable showing much affection. Those same parents often get uneasy when their child is very emotional. They try to overcome their uneasiness by trying to get their child to understand the logic of the situation. They get impatient when logic doesn't help their child. ("Elizabeth, if you would just listen to what I am saying, then you would know how to do your math homework. Crying won't help!") Like each of the six styles, teaching has its benefits and its limitations. Is teaching a common style for you?

How to Say It

  • "Let me explain..."
  • "Watch how I do it, then you try."
  • "Let's see if we can figure this out together."
  • "Interesting choice. Why did you pick that answer?"
  • "The answer is..."
  • "I"m not sure what the answer is. Let's look it up."
  • "Do it this way."
  • "How would you feel if someone did that to you?"
  • "When you told your sister she couldn't use your baseball glove, how do you think that made her feel?"
  • "Making mistakes is one of the ways we learn things."
  • "I want you to do this because..."
  • "The reason you can't go is..."

Of course, tone of voice is key. Saying "Do it this way!" in a gruff, exasperated tone will be taken as a criticism. In fact, parents often slip into a critical teaching mode. It is not fatal, and used sparingly it may get the child's attention, but usually it adds to stress and lessens the likelihood your child will want you to help with problems.

How Not to Say It

  • "I can't believe you did that!"
  • "That's stupid!"
  • "Never mind, I"ll do it!"
  • "If that's the way you're going to be, then you can take care of this by yourself."
  • "That answer is wrong. I thought you said you studied for this test?"
  • "You're acting like a baby!"
  • "Why can't you be like your sister?"

Put-downs, name-calling, and comparisons are the worst kinds of statements you can make. Parents who use a critical teaching mode seldom use Empathizing. Learning to speak more empathetically can actually help parents feel more patient.

The best time to use Teaching is when:
  • Anxiety or frustration (for either parent or child) is low.
  • Children calmly ask questions.
  • Children are not preoccupied with other things.
  • You are not likely to be critical.


Next: Empathizing >>
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