It’s been said that the way a parent talks to their children becomes their inner voice. It only takes moments of reflection to recall personal experiences less than exemplary but definitely impressionable with those littles that we love so much. Don’t panic. We all have those intense moments where things have been said or done that you cannot take back. Mistakes happen, and will continue to happen; but there are practical ways to invest words in them now that will reap benefits for them later in life. Your words matter and now is the time to start making them count! 

If we are building the foundation of self-talk in real time, what do we want our children to hear in times of sorrow, disappointment, embarrassment, mistakes or change? Here are practical steps to recalibrate the way you speak to your kids in teachable moments that will serve them better as adults and phrases to build esteem for now and later. 

Step one: Take an honest assessment of what kind of dialogue is helpful and what isn’t. Some of this will depend on the age of your kids. There are probably some unique ways of relating or explaining things that even you surprise yourself with how well you maneuver those topics. Acknowledge those, then dig deeper to find ways of relating in those teachable moments that are not helpful such as shaming, mocking or pettiness. 

 If your kids are older and you are interested in raw feedback, ask them what you are good at and what is not helpful for them. They will probably jump at the chance to tell you everything you are doing wrong. Even if it’s not all true (or fair) , hold your tongue and listen, you may learn a few things. I sure did! You are just holding up a mirror to reflect what is happening in your home. Look at it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

After you have identified ways to change, now it’s time to go to work. Because change doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes needs prompting, here are some practical phrases you can insert into teachable moments that also speak life into the future. 

“Yes, this is hard but you can do hard things”. I had a recent conversation with my six year old who broke down into tears over an upcoming “Market Day” project. She felt it too complex to wrap her brain around and had already set herself up for failure. It was then that I said those very words. “This is hard, but girl, I know you can do hard things.” I acknowledged the difficulty while also acknowledging that she is capable. How many more times will she face hard predicaments? Countless. How many more opportunities do I have to tell her she is capable? Just as many. 

“Here’s what I know about you…”. If there is any phase that will make a parent lose their chalupas, it’s the teen years. This phrase is a good one to use during this time of boundary testing and mistakes of greater gravity. When you start this sentence, the end does not contain all the reasons this child has failed your expectations. I’m sure they’ve heard this many times before and are replaying it in their head more often than you are aware. Teens are acutely aware of their shortcomings despite their hard core appearance. You pick anything and everything that is positive about that child and bring it up in stark contrast with the mistake made. You remind him who he is and that he belongs in your family. Belonging is very important and actually instills a sense of accountability to more than just consequences for that offense at that particular time. Disclaimer, you may need to dig deep for this one especially during phases when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there, you both need to see the good and you get to be one to bring it forth. 

“You can be scared and brave at the same time.” In the last 10 years we have lived in 4 states. My kids have grown accustomed to starting over but the process hasn’t gotten easier. In fact, as they get older, they will tell you it gets harder. During these and other times of transition, I have used this phrase to remind them that these two feelings can coexist simultaneously. This gives them the opportunity to feel scared about a transition, a performance, a conflict or anything life may throw their way but speaking bravery over them opens them up to the possibility that maybe they are brave as well. 

While these phrases are not the “be all, end all”,they give you some framework for others that will make sense for your family. It’s important to insert here that children mimic what they see, not just what is said. What kind of self talk are you modeling and how will you be tweaking it to better serve you? 

The next time you feel yourself erupting in exasperation over your child, remember you are equipping this tiny adult to deal with all that life has to throw at them, so pause mama, breathe and choose your words wisely because they matter for now and for the future. 

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