Three Little Words

I have three words to talk about. What do these words have in common? They are words that I am trying to remove from my everyday vocabulary, or at least use less often, with my children because I don’t think they are helpful for any of us.


Photo by Gail Williams

Most of the parents I know seem to be are aware that saying “no” too often, or as the default position isn’t great for kids. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but we try to turn it around into a yes.

A1: No, you can’t have candy before lunch.

A2: Yes, you may have candy after lunch.

It may seem like word games to us. But for kids like my JD, the difference between those answers is the difference between an explosion and calm acceptance. Really, I didn’t used to do this but then I tried it out and it was like a miracle! I explain it this way. How would I feel if I heard ‘no’ as many times in a day as I might say it to my children? I think I would feel pretty defeated and I assume so must our children.

I have been ending statements with this word as long as I can remember.

Finish up what you are doing because it is time to leave. Okay?

It’s similar to when you say: Right? after making an opinion statement.

Vanilla is the best ice cream flavor. (Am I) Right?

In the second case, while I might be hoping for agreement, I don’t necessarily expect it. However, in the first case, I’m not really looking for agreement at all! Certainly there are times when my child might disagree and I’m willing to hear him out. But, I add OKAY because in my mind it turns the statement into a question that has to be answered. Does that even work? I suppose it does sometimes because my kids have come to expect it. Instead, perhaps it would be better to wait for acknowledgment, and only if it doesn’t come, then simply ask if I was heard.

Be careful!

Photo by Tuomas

I have noticed lately, perhaps because my older son replies with “I know, mom” in that annoyed, you are being ridiculous voice (come on, you know the one), that I tend to use the word CAREFUL, and the phrase BE CAREFUL reflexively, and much, much too often.

EJ (8) has made scrambled eggs a handful of times. What is the one thing I always tell him when he gets out the 8″ chef’s knife to chop the ham?

Be careful, that’s sharp!

Sometimes it’s no wonder he doesn’t get all sarcastic on me. “What? Really! I had no idea that this big pointy knife would be sharp mom! Thanks so much for telling me for the 5th time.”

What did I say yesterday after JD, my 5-year-old, flipped over his bicycle handlebars onto his head? (Thankfully he was wearing his helmet and was fine although rather shaken up.)

Please be more careful next time!

What!? Because clearly a simple word from me will teach him something that actually flipping over the handlebars didn’t. I mean, come on! How ridiculous and ineffectual is that!

Okay, so these two examples definitely have the potential for real harm. Maybe my warnings are justified? Well, not really. EJ and I discussed the proper way to use the knife the first time he used it and I’ve watched him every time since to be sure he is being safe. JD certainly didn’t expect to flip over the handlebars and of course he knows that would hurt. CAREFUL just isn’t specific enough to be helpful. Also, I use it so reflexively that I say it even when the risk is quite low:

  • Someone is running around the house: Be Careful!
  • Falls down: Careful!
  • Drops food on the floor: Be more careful next time!

I’m sure there are other things I say that would probably be better off unsaid. But these are the ones that I am trying to become more mindful of. I do wonder if I will be successful, will it ever become second nature to bite my tongue when I think CAREFUL, or phrase my NOs in a different way, or stop turning statements into questions with OKAY?

Those are my words. What are some things you hear yourself saying that you wish you wouldn’t?


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