Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Positive Parent Talk... Words are Powerful!

Dear Diary, 

My mom is a nerd and is that is a compliment.  Isn’t imitation the best compliment?... well, I embrace the nerd in me.  She has a keychain that says “I love math” and her favorite t-shirt says something about pie being square.  She loves puzzles and reads- how nerdy J  I’d definitely select her as one of my “phone a friend” calls on “Who wants to be a millionaire?”.  She regularly exercises her brain and I can imagine her one day at the ripe old age of 110 with all her wits about her. 
She is a mother of 6.  She has been “teaching” and raising kids for a long time. I’d have to guess that as we grew up, she taught and nurtured us by referring to her own parent role models, using her intuition and then by trial and error.  We turned out pretty good... well most of us.  Growing up, we shared our mom with everyone.  Her mothering tactics extended well beyond her own children.  Our house had an open door policy- quite literally; our door was left open a lot of the time like we “lived in a barn”.  My aunts tell me that they often mirrored her and deferred to her for parent advice.  Sometimes they’d say, “WWTD”… what would Tess do?

My mom impresses me because as smart as she is, she is not a “know –it-all”.  She is always learning.  Einstein said something like… the more you learn, the more you don’t know.  As much as my mom is a teacher, she is a student. As an adult with 20/20 hind sight, I ask her, “Why didn’t you teach us this?... Why did you do that?”... she admits that she didn’t think about it like that... or she didn’t know or she didn’t how to do that under this circumstance or another.  She did her best… that is for certain.   

Now that we are grown and we have kids of our own, my mom’s knowledge has reached a new level. She has a few degrees to prove it.  She is a middle school math and science teacher and she is constantly attending workshops.  She takes those personal development days pretty seriously.  And lucky ME!... she shares her master class lessons with me.  Like most people, her learning is reinforced when she teaches someone else about it- I am a hungry student.  Here, I am paying it forward by sharing it with you.   

A few months ago we were reviewing her notes from her grad class.  It taught ideas from Parent Talk, a book by Chick Moorman.  The subtitle is Words that Empower- Words that Wound…  How to Talk to Your Children in Language that Builds Self Esteem and Encourages Responsibility.  There is a partner book called Teacher Talk that I wish/hope my kids’ teacher read. 
Everything from my mom’s Parent Talk outline and notes made a lot of sense.  Some of it I was proud to say happened organically in my parenting.  Many other positive parent talk phrases were not my natural reflex responses.  And even more interesting to me was that things that I said all the time were well-intentioned but I learned how and why they send the wrong message.  We as parents say that we sound like a broken record- I want the things I say over and over to be sending the right message.  I really wanted to integrate it into my parent talk.

It’s not easy to implement new parenting strategies.  It takes intentional practice.  So, spending the day with my mom and my kids was good opportunities for us to try out some of the phrases that were new to me.  It was a little bit comical as every time the kids approached me with something, I would very slowly and carefully chose the words that I said back to them.  They noticed there was something different.  They flexed their eyebrows and cocked their head to the side. (“what’s going on with mom?”)    

So, that initial introduction to Parent talk happened months ago that my mom and I were reviewing her notes.  It was planting seeds for me… I got in some food for thought and a little practice.  A few weeks ago, she just gave me the book and when I found a few minutes to myself this morning, I got it out. The first section was a good review and made me realize that I have made some good changes.  Still some other things that we discussed a few months ago, didn’t things don’t seem to be working. So, I’ve put into practice the things that we talked about months ago and some of the phrases really stuck for me- as they feel natural.  I truly believe that many of these things have empowered my kids and helped them to make the right choices. 

Here are some highlights from the first part of the book:         


“Choose. Decide. Pick.” Add these words to your parent talk.  The power of choice is amazing.  Teach children that they choose their own acts… their attitudes and behaviors.  “If you chose to have your chores done by 2pm, I’ll take you to the mall.”  “If you chose to keep whining, you are deciding to go into timeout.” It really has a different ring than what I often say: “I am going to put you in time out if you don’t stop crying.”  I feel like the big bad cop when I say it this way. Parents can be control (with less guilt) by giving the power of choice to the child.

“Please make a difference choice.” Imply that you trust they are intelligent enough to choose an appropriate response.  It is not threatening or scolding- just asking them to make a better choice.  

Offer kids 2 choices (that are both good) to let them practice making their own decisions.  “Do you want fruits or vegetables?” I learned trick a while ago when it came to bedtime routine. “Do you want to lay with this bear or this bunny? Do you want to read 1 book or 2?  Do you want to this song or that one?” when the kids had a choice in the routine, they went along with the program. I find that my kids LOVE  to know “the plan” and know that there are slight variations of their own choosing.

“You decide.” (when your inclination is to say “yes”)  Can I watch TV?... “if you don’t disturb anyone. You decide.” I like to think of this one more like “You decide if it’s a good choice.”… on occasions that it most likely is a fine choice.

“Check Yourself” Make them be responsible that they have everything… that they are acting right. Etc.  Good thing to say.

“Check it out inside.” What’s your intuition say?


It happens all the time… Kids come running from the playarea crying, “He called me __(a jerk/ stupid/ ugly) _____.” Self Talk- what we say about ourselves- should mean more than what anyone else says about us. Kids should learn to overpower anyone else’s ridicule with their own confidence. If someone says to you “You’re stupid.” it is just as silly as if they said “You’re a car.” The clear self talk that should happen in your head is “No I’m not.”

They say that a kid’s self image is instilled at a very young age… usually before kindergarten.  They have a list of things that they think they are. “I am____.” Parents are completely responsible for creating that list for their kids.  I am special. I am loved. I am creative. I am good at trying new things. I am nice. I am loving. I am strong and healthy. I am a good learner. I am coordinated.  I am a good listener. These are the things that I try to say to my kids all the time. 

Other people often tell my kids that they are pretty, smart, so cute, funny…. These are all really nice compliments that we appreciate but they don’t have to be the top-rated self-talks in their mind.  On the contrary, I hear other parents say things about their own kids about them being lazy, aggressive, clumsy, and I am sure that they kids can hear it and it sinks into their self conscious and becomes more and more true.
Self-Talk is important for adults too… and I believe that we have the power to rewrite what we think about ourselves.  I believe in constant and consistent personal change for the better.  Other people sometimes “put me in a box” regarding something that they knew me for years ago… “I thought you didn’t like doing that?”  Maybe at some point I didn’t, but that’s not forever.  I know lots of people who have negative self talk causing low self esteem. They hold onto something they thought about themselves growing up… “I am not athletic.” Well, learn a new sport… practice.  As adults we practice self affirmations- say it aloud and it more likely to come true.
“Act as if” Teach kids to be a doer. If they are struggling at something, it is NOT helpful to say “Sure you can, just try.”…………..  that implies that they will be able to do it as long as they try- which isn’t always true.  They may be afraid to even start the action- encourage them to give effort and do it- even if it incorrect or imperfect at first. I am a proponent of “fake it til you make it”…. For things you want to be true and happen… it eventually becomes a real and right.   If you are in a bad mood try forcing a smile... it will eventually stick.  If you are feeling lazy… get up, start moving and you will be happy you did.  If you don’t really like something (that you wish you did), fake it until you actually will like it.

Sum it up in ONE WORD: Caring/ Self Control/ Faith/ Willpower/ Effort/ Follow Through/ Love/ Courage/ Appreciation/ Honesty/ Respect (NOT Good/ Beautiful/  Excellent/ Super/ Awesome)  I use the word awesome often… too much I’ll admit.  When my kids show me something, my reflex response is “awesome!”  I’d think that is a good thing until I read this book and now I know there are better one word accolades. “Awesome” is an evaluation instead of acknowledging the value and character that was exhibited.  I have to practice this one.  My 5 year old asks for evaluations all the time.. “Mom, is this good? Did I do a good job? Does this make you happy? Are you proud of my for this?”  she is hungry for evaluation and I should be able to put it back on her to feel the satisfaction and I can share it with her… “I am proud for you.”… is less judging.  Just like I don’t like someone my own age to say, “I am so proud of you.” That feels weird to me as if they are judging me and determined that they were proud.  I would love it if they said something like “I can see how much effort you put into that.” Or “I noticed the courage it took for you to try that.”   


“Let’s have a trial period and then you have to decide if you want to commit.” INSTEAD OF the idea of “Don’t be a quitter.” This was an interesting chapter.  I am a stickler for commitment.  I don’t like to be thought of as starting something and not finishing it.  In retrospect and after reading parent talk’s explanation, I go thinking.  I am proud of myself for graduating college and I think more than anything else it shows that I can commit and complete things.  I remember in high school, I was on 4 sports a year and the moment I was “on the team” I was committed to making it to every single practice and every single game and giving it my all.  So, we have established that commitment is important however we don’t want our kids to be afraid to try new things worrying that they might be stuck doing (until the end) them even if they don’t like them.  Today, I hesitate to try new things and honestly, a lot of it is what I would tell my friends about this “new thing” and what if I don’t stick with it.  Its only after I have been doing things for 5 years that I say to myself, “okay, I do that, and I am not going to quit.”  I should allow myself a trial period J … and I will really be thinking about this for my kids too.     

“What’s your goal?” Make sure the goals are S.M.A.R.T. specific measurable attainable realistic timely Write down your goals. Look at it everyday.

“Make a picture in your mind.” Close your eyes and talk through the details.  Describe the detailed picture of a great outcome.


“No.” Youngsters deserve to know there are adults in their lives who draw lines and enforce them, lovingly and consistently. “No” can be a complete sentence. “No” should not be followed by “ok?”.  I think 90% of good discipline is to have clear lines and to enforce them. I find over and over that my kids appreciate plans and rules.

“I love you.” make this phrase meaningful and habit

These are my notes from just the first quarter of the book. It is really thought provoking stuff.  I’d love to hear if any of it resonates with you.  What works for your parenting style? 

Sisterly love, 

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