The buzz phrase “intentional parenting” can sound very appealing, but daunting. Is it a program? Is there a guidebook you need to read? Luckily, being more intentional in your parenting is as simple as taking time to reflect on and make decisions about the ways that you interact with your child or children each day.
In my current season of parenting a very young toddler, I’ve found that intentional parenting often happens after reflecting on some unintentional parenting moments. Lately, I realized that several phrases were rolling off my tongue over and over (and over) each day that I thought there might be better alternatives to.
3 Things I’m Trying to Say LESS to My Young Child
Here are three simple phrases I’m trying saying less frequently to my child. Maybe they’ll spark a realization of your own or motivate an intentional shift in the things you say to your kiddo.
1. “Daddy is at work.”
My child has entered the perfect storm of attachment, language development and cognition that results in him saying “Dada” at least 30 times a day. Whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom or something in between, you’ll likely find your young kids asking for the parent who’s not present quite often.
I found myself unthinkingly responding to each “Dada” as if it were a question as to his whereabouts, answering with the repeated refrain, “Daddy’s at work.” But recently I wondered if there were ways to respond that underscored connection instead of separation when Daddy is away.
What I say instead:
- Reflect on shared memories: “Are you thinking about your Daddy? Isn’t he so fun? You love it when Daddy rolls the ball with you.”
- Create a plan for connecting: “When Daddy comes home, what will we play with him? You could show him your new library books.”
- Talk about the bigger picture or context: “Daddy is in your family. Who else is in your family? Mommy, Sam the dog, PopPop…” “Let’s look for Daddy’s car in the driveway. Nope, it’s not there. Is Mommy’s car there?”
There is definitely a time and place for saying “no” to your child. But there is also a season (which I fear could extend for at least the next decade of my parenting) when it is perilously easy to say it nearly constantly. Our little ones need help to learn rules and to navigate expectations and “no” is the first response that comes to our minds as parents.
Rather than reflexively saying “no,” to my toddler’s mischievous explorations, I’m trying to reserve it for big offenses or moments when he is in danger or needs a firm boundary, rather than everyday teachable moments. I also hope that by saying “no” less, I avoid diminishing its power and significance.
What I say instead:
- Redirect to a desired behavior: “Can you put that in the bucket instead of your mouth?”
- Intervene by helping or showing: “I’m going to help you put that back in the trashcan.” “Let me show you how to play with that gently.”
- Anticipate mischief before it happens: “Oops, mommy left the bathroom door open. Can you help shut it?” “It looks like you’re having trouble keeping things on your tray. I’m going to move your milk over here – you let me know when you’re ready for it.”
Here are 9 tips to get kids to listen that also help.
3. “Be careful!”
This one may be the hardest of the bunch and is one that I hear flow near constantly from the mouths of fellow parents, too. Sometimes I wonder if past generations of parents had this pervasive “be careful” reflex or if it’s a new phenomenon. Most of the time, I’ve noticed that “be careful” is an expression of parental anxiety more than an effective way to change a young child’s behavior in the moment.
I know from my work as a pediatric Occupational Therapist how vitally important a child’s problem-solving experiences are to his motor, sensory and cognitive development. I want to give him opportunities to learn through experience, challenges and natural consequences rather than through my warnings. I don’t want to pass on an incessant inner voice of generalized caution, worry or avoidance to him. Instead, I want to keep him safe but enable him to spot and evaluate specific risks on his own.
What I say instead:
- Give specific warnings or observations: “Look, your head is very close to the table.”
- Offer concrete suggestions: “Hold onto the rail when you go down the stairs and you’ll be steadier.” “Remember that yesterday you fell off this chair and bonked your head. You could turn around so you don’t bonk again.”
- Provide help for big risks: “I’m going to hold your hand because this is a big curb you’re exploring.” “I’m going to help you pet this doggy because we don’t know him.”
In addition to the 10 things I say to my baby every day, I’m realizing that being deliberate in what we don’t say to our children can be as important as being deliberate about what we do.
Being more intentional in your parenting isn’t complicated but it requires a little extra effort and awareness. It’s both rewarding and valuable to recognize that all those little interactions we have with our children every day add up to the full picture of what we’re teaching and how we’re developing our family relationships.
More Posts on Intentional Parenting:
10 Ways to Raise a Confident Child — The Realistic Mama
The Big Rocks of Parenting — A Mother Far From Home
5 Minutes Towards Parenting Intentionally — Study At Home Mama
10 Simple Ways to Connect With Your Child — One Perfect Day
Mommy, Will You Look in My Eyes When I Talk? — The Realistic Mama
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Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L is the pediatric Occupational Therapist, mommy and child development nerd behind CanDoKiddo.com. With passion and expertise for early childhood development, she blogs and writes books to help fellow parents better understand their newborns, babies and toddlers so that they can confidently and playfully give them the healthiest start possible. You can connect with Rachel on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.