“Do as I say, not as I do” is no longer a sufficient parenting method. I’m not sure that it ever was, actually. Kids copy us, so we have to set the example.
There are many things I’m sure my son hears that I wish he didn’t, so these are the phrases I’ve been trying to incorporate more often:
1. Please and thank you.
Manners aren’t just for kids to learn. Some adults still struggle to say please and thank you, and the more we do it with our kids, the easier they’ll learn. I say please and thank you to my son as often as I can — even when I’m changing his diaper or undressing him.
2. I’m sorry.
This one can be difficult because we don’t like to admit that we make mistakes as parents, but we do. Whether it’s yelling when we didn’t need to or accidentally overheating a meal, we all do things daily that fall short from being perfect. I even apologize when my son is begging to go outside but it’s too cold. “Sorry, we can’t go out right now and I know that makes you sad, but maybe later.” Now he even says sorry to our dogs when he pulls their tail — but he also expects the kitchen chair that he fell from to say sorry. He will understand more one day; it’s the groundwork that’s important now.
3. I love you.
We love our children so much, but in the midst of picking up toys, arguing with our spouses, trying to maintain some sense of order in the home, and just balancing life in general, verbalizing it to them can be something that slips off our priority list until bedtime or the next day. Remember to tell your little ones you love them as much as possible. They do hear you and appreciate it. My son doesn’t say it back to us as often as we say it to him, but he smiles or hugs us in return.
4. It’s okay.
When my son spills his milk all over his shirt, my immediate reaction is to freak out. I’m mentally processing how to quickly clean the mess and deciding if I should change his clothes or just give him a bath. And what if he spills more? Same with his dripping popsicles, the juice cups left upside down on the couch, and pretzels thrown everywhere in the car. Instead of overreacting though, I’ve learned to just say “it’s okay” because he notices when I’m mad and has begun to get this frozen look on his face anytime he has a potty accident or drops something. I don’t want to raise him to be scared of stuff like messes, of my reaction to little things. The more we reassure our kids that things are okay, and they’re okay, the better they can adjust to things they can’t control — or the things that don’t go as they planned.
5. You’re wonderful.
Self-confidence is crucial at any age. One time a stranger at the grocery store told my mom that I was beautiful. I was only 6 years old, but I remember my mom telling the stranger to not compliment me because it will get to my head and I’ll end up being an arrogant person. Well, I grew up to be the opposite of arrogant, and I wish my mom had told me more that I was great, pretty, amazing or just good enough in general. I constantly remind my son how wonderful he is regardless of what he does, likes or says. I refrain from saying he’s “bad” because we all do things that are “bad” occasionally and it doesn’t label our entire personality. I want him to take on the world with a positive perspective of himself and it’s never too early to start building that foundation.
What are some things you want to say more so your child can repeat it to others some day? When my son tells me that something is okay after he sees me crying or flustered, it lights up my day. It reminds me to focus on what matters. Hopefully, these phrases do the same for you and your family.