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Close up of a young girl with a concerned look on her face

The Power of Our Words as Parents

As parents, it is important for us to always be mindful about how we speak to our children. We need to communicate in a positive and kind manner.

Yelling, put downs, and name-calling are detrimental to our kids’ development. I believe most of us are aware of this, even if it may not be something we always practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken a deeper look at how I speak to my children in certain moments during the day. Although I may not yell or insult them, I’ve come to recognize a less apparent flaw in the way I communicate.

My 4-year-old daughter, Keira, has been adjusting to the big sister role for the past year and a half. On most days, Keira enjoys the company of her sister and loves to play games with her. At certain times; however, Keira can get frustrated with her and does something to make her sister cry or become upset.

Typically, they like playing together in Keira’s bedroom. My wife and I linger a few feet away and listen to make sure they are getting along. One day recently, as they were playing in the room, Eliza started to cry. In the past when this happens, we usually call out looking for more information before going into the room. We do this to see if it is an issue that they can resolve on their own or if adult intervention is needed. Because Eliza can’t verbally express herself, we rely on Keira for information about the incident. As we shout out, our line of questioning is mostly the same. We always start by asking, “What did you do?” and it is often followed by, “Why is she crying then?”

Now, 80 percent of the time, Keira is the cause of the crying. Sometimes she might snatch a toy away from her sister, annoy her, or do something that causes her to fall down. But I recently realized that there are times when her sister is crying for an unrelated reason, and Keira is still approached as being the prime suspect. With the way that we question her, she has to start off being defensive and prove to us that she’s innocent.

The more I thought about it, I realized how damaging that might be for her if she is always initially blamed for her sister’s unhappiness. As she gets older, it can affect our relationship with her and her willingness to trust and open up with us. It can also cause her to become more distant from her sister if she feels that she might get the blame for whatever mishap befalls her.

It may seem small, but simply the way that we question our kids, or the tone in our voices, can have a life-altering impact. While what you say may not be inherently harmful, it is still important to recognize the power of your words and how your child might potentially internalize what and how you say things.

Since recognizing this, we’ve changed how we approached the situation. We now ask, “What happened?” in a non-accusatory tone and allow Keira the ability to explain. This small adjustment could make a world of difference for her.

I challenge you to take a look at how you communicate with your children and see if there are any questions or phrases that you may need to adjust.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.