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Words Matter: Teaching Preschoolers through our Words

If you haven’t already figured it out, kids are always listening. 

That makes it even more important that our words bring value and clarity.  

We have three kids, ages 15, 12, and 4, and they all seem to hear things when we don’t want them to.  You think they don’t listen because they can’t seem to remember anything you tell them that involves work, but just try whispering to your spouse and see who can hear you. 

Spoiler alert – it’s everyone.  

So I’ve figured out quickly that words really matter.  

My preschooler, Z, is very curious and we have lots of discussions.  She asks a lot of questions and can hold a conversation with many adults.  This is dangerous for a 4-year-old because they don’t understand the big picture.  I’d get calls from daycare with about half the true story.  I realized that my words were important enough to her that she wanted to tell all her friends about them.  This was my first clue that what I was saying actually stuck

Then I started noticing her saying things that clearly I say: “You are driving me crazy”, or “I’m going to lose it”.  Z likes to tell you how to play when you play pretend.  Our response is always “Please don’t tell me how to play” because she’s a little control freak and needs to learn that’s not how it works.  Guess who used that one back on Mom?  “Mom, please don’t tell me what to do”. 

How can I say that but she can’t?

 

Words are powerful and they matter.  How we use them teaches our kids how they should use them.  

So how can we use my words for the better when it comes to parenting a preschooler?   

Here are some tips to use when using words to direct your kids:

  1. This one is non-negotiable – Don’t say anything you aren’t willing to back up.  You lose credit immediately by threatening and not following through.  Parenting gets even harder if they don’t take you seriously.  
  2. No matter what your consequence is for bad behavior, ensure they understand why they are there.  Have them repeat specifically what got them into trouble; it’s not “I was bad”, it’s the action they chose to do.  Talk about how to handle the situation differently, then move on for the day. They did their time for the crime, don’t keep punishing.
  3. Have them repeat body-positive sayings out loud.  For example, every day at breakfast encourage them to say “I am brave, I am smart, I am beautiful.”  If they say it out loud enough, they will believe it.
  4. Avoid using “Good Job” – this one is hard for me.  What this does is show kids that it’s only the result that matters.  Try telling them exactly what you are proud of – “I love how creative you were” or “I’m proud of you for trying something new.”
  5. Eliminate the phrase “Stop Crying” – In reality, that phrase tells our kids not to feel.  What we want to teach is that they are allowed to feel what they are feeling, but they aren’t allowed to use tears to get what they want.  So try using “It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel ___” but explain they might be feeling that because they have consequences to their actions.
  6. Try to give your kids 10 times more positive comments than negative ones.    

It’s crucial to understand now that kids are smart and can understand what is going on. 

They are picking up on social cues, emotional tension, and the facts around them.   You can either talk about it and give them the tools to process it or you can ignore it.  I didn’t realize soon enough that Z was listening.

Let words do the work and create small habits in kids that set them up for success.

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