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The most ineffective things to say to your kids

Communicating with kids isn’t always easy. As parents, we have plenty of opportunities to pour wisdom out on our kids — probably too much, if you ask the kids. As children get older, the need to carefully select our words is highlighted by their reactions, or lack thereof. As we navigate the parenting path, it is helpful to recognize and avoid the ineffective parenting phrases that frequently slip from our mouths.

Mom talking to child

Maggie Macaulay, MS ED, owner of Whole Hearted Parenting, has been teaching parents how to create cooperative, peaceful homes for over a decade. Her valuable insight will help you avoid common parenting mistakes.


When kids are pushing you for an answer and you’re not ready to commit one way or another, it’s tempting to respond with a non-committal “maybe,” which often prolongs the prodding. “‘I am not ready to make a decision right now’ is more authentic,” says Macaulay. “Parents (should) provide a decision deadline, letting their child know that they will make a decision by a certain day or time.”

“Would you like to [fill in the blank]?”

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If you’re inviting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, but clearly will only accept one or the other, reconsider asking the question. “Instead, make a polite request such as ‘Please turn off the television,'” says Macaulay. “Asking a question instead of making a request for your child to do something is an invitation to a power struggle.”

“Go to your room and don’t come out until I come and get you.”

When you’ve reached the end of your patience, it’s easy to send your child to his room in an effort to diffuse the situation. But, according to Macaulay, “Time out is ineffective. A child is not going to sit in his room and ponder how he can improve his behavior.” Instead she recommends “other alternatives for parents, such as self-quieting, logical consequences and natural consequences.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

When you repeat a request over and over and over again, this little comment can slip out easily. “This is a complaint disguised as a confusing question,” says Macaulay. “A more effective response would be ‘I feel frustrated when I ask you to take out the trash and you do not do it. I would like you to take out the trash when I ask the first time. Are you willing to do that?'”

“Hurry up!”

You probably can’t count the number of times you’ve said this to your kids. But what does it really mean? Hurrying to you can mean something completely different to a six year old — or a sixteen year old! When you need to get out the door and a child is lagging, “a more effective phrase is ‘We are leaving in 10 minutes,'” says Macaulay.

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