This Viral Meme Reminds Us That How We Talk To Our Kids Really Does Matter

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe

We’ve all been there. We’ve asked one of our kids over and over to do something. But the kid just sits there, staring into space, lost in a book (or let’s be honest, an iPad). We ask again. Maybe this time our kid finally responds, only now they are pissy and rude — as though us asking them to do that one little thing was the worst thing that could ever happen to them in the history of ever.

Of course, now we are fuming. No matter how patient we strive to be, we are totally losing it by now. Because it’s not just this instance. It’s every single time. It’s the buildup of all the times this has happened in the past week, the past month.

So of course we raise our voices, make accusations, the whole shebang. And then our kid, in turn, blows up, melts down, has a fit. And we’re back to square one, only now everyone is worked up.

I’ll just say it: Parenting is hard. It can be among the most thankless, infuriating things a person can do. There is no sense in glossing over that fact.

And yet, it’s also hard to be a kid, and no matter how strict or lenient we are in our parenting, we all know that on some level. We remember what it was like to be small, to feel like no one understood us, like no one was truly listening, and that everyone around us would become frustrated with us for no apparent reason.

The fact is, kids haven’t learned self-regulation yet. It’s not their fault that they can’t control their emotions or impulses; their brains simply aren’t fully developed yet.

But maybe there is a way to get through to them. After all, we need to be able to speak to and negotiate with our kids without it turning into a full-fledged battle each time. We need them to learn to be responsible and control their emotions when the time is right, which means we have to control ours too. Maybe there are tweaks we can make in how we communicate with them in order to help them (and us) manage the total chaos that life with kids often amounts to.

I, for one, am always on the lookout for creative, user-friendly tips for raising my kids in a more compassionate, child-centered, yet firm way (always tough to find that balance, I know!). That’s why I was intrigued by a recent viral meme.

It’s called “Instead of That, Say This” and was shared on the Gottman Institute’s Facebook page. Written and created by Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist based in British Columbia, the meme offers tips for how parents can make little changes in the way we speak to our children in order to more effectively communicate and make life a bit easier for us all.

Check it out here:

Dr. Vanessa Lapointe

The gist of it is that even though we usually think we are being helpful and direct with our kids, we often aren’t putting ourselves in their shoes and considering how our comments and assertions come across to our kids.

We may think it’s useful to demand that our kids change their behavior or point out what they are doing wrong, but that often results in them feeling nothing but hurt and accused, and does nothing in terms of teaching them what they can do instead.

And it doesn’t communicate to them that we (the grown-up) are there to help them control and guide their behavior.

So, for example, as the meme points out, instead of saying “What were you thinking?” any time your child is out of line, try replacing it with something like, “I’m going to help you with this.”

See how that goes from a flat-out accusation to a kinder, more constructive tone?

And it’s not just the words we say, but the gestures and the general vibe we let off. I know that I have been one to putter around the house when I’m frustrated, gritting my teeth, and yes, even rolling my eyes at my kids.

But this approach encourages us parents to try to make an effort to change our own behavior too. So instead of a “silent eye roll and frustrated sigh,” we are prompted to replace that with something like “kindness in [our] eyes and a compassionate hair tousle.”

Scary Mommy caught up with Dr. Lapointe, creator of the meme (and also the author of an entire book on gentle/positive disciple called Discipline Without Damage) to share some thoughts about her meme and parenting in general.

It’s all about trust, according to Dr. Lapointe. “Our greatest source of power as parents — not scary power but nurturing power — is to find our children trusting us with their hearts,” she shares. “This naturally gives us the ability to be in the lead of them and guide them through life. And this in turn affects how their brains grow and how their sense of self is shaped.”

See, I wasn’t kidding about the fact that kids’ brains are still growing. But it’s not only that: How we parent them can actually strongly affect how their brains and psyches are formed.

Huge responsibility, huh?

But according to Dr. Lapointe, it’s actually pretty simple. It’s all about finding points of connection with our kids and nurturing those. “In discipline, it means that we must connect with our children rather than disconnect from them,” she explains.

And it’s not just about how our children respond and behave: It’s about working on ourselves as well, to become calmer and more understanding parents. “Discipline is actually far less about finding our children behaving well, and far more about finding ourselves behaving well,” Dr. Lapointe points out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. None of this comes easy. And sometimes changing our own behavior is the hardest part.

There are times that there is no way in hell I’m going to be able to push my frustration all the way aside, and that’s true for all of us. We don’t need to be perfect to be kind, effective parents.

It doesn’t take much. Just a rephrasing here and there, and a different way of viewing our kids and their needs. I know that the times I do that — that I make an effort to truly connect with my kids, even while disciplining them — everyone in my house benefits.

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