As parents, we wear many hats. One moment we’re finishing a work task. Next, we’re cooking a meal while checking in with family. Yet multitasking and busy schedules make it difficult to really connect with our kids. Over the years, I’ve found these three magic phases open the door to more connection and better conversations with my family.
Magic Phrase #1: “That’s so hard.” (Validation)
Phrases to avoid: “That’s silly. You shouldn’t feel that way.”
Can you remember a time when you were struggling, and someone really listened to you? Maybe they said, “That’s so hard” instead of giving you advice. Or perhaps they shared a time when they felt the same way? They validated your experience, making you feel less alone.
As parents, it’s easy to fall into advice or fix-it mode with our kids instead of listening. But, often, the best way to help is simply to listen. To validate their experience and help them process their emotions. And there’s no better way to build connection and trust.
Magic Phrase #2 : “I wonder ______” (Curiosity instead of control)
Phrase to avoid: “You should _______.”
Life is full of lessons and opportunities for growth, especially for kids and teens. You may have noticed that teens get highly annoyed by unsolicited advice, particularly from their parents. Whenever I offer advice or give directions, it seems to put a quick end to conversations in my family
Instead, I’ve found using the words “I wonder” helps me stay engaged in my kids’ lives, but gives them the space they need to decide their path. For example, I say, “I wonder what your teacher would say if you asked her,” instead of “You should talk to your teacher.” Letting go of some control, but staying curious and engaged keeps conversations going and opens the door for growth.
Magic Phrase #3: “You’ve got this.” (Confidence)
Phrases to avoid: “Don’t mess up.”
When someone truly believes in us, it feels like wind beneath our wings. As parents, it’s difficult to see our kids head into situations that might end in failure. Whether trying out for a team, starting a new activity or performing, we want more than anything for our kids to succeed.
As we know, sometimes they will succeed, and sometimes they won’t. There is value in both outcomes. As my kids head into a challenging situation, I try to remember to smile, look them in the eyes and say, “You’ve got this.” These simple words give them a little boost in confidence, which is so essential when doing courageous things.
Over the years, these simple phrases have helped me validate my kids’ experiences, stay engaged in their lives, and instill confidence. I don’t always remember to use them, but when I do, the conversation is more meaningful and opens the door to more connection.
About Jessica Speer: Jessica Speer is an author focused on helping kids and families thrive. Her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships releases July 2021. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and her writing and research explore social-emotional topics.