Parenting Tips, Info, & Advice
“What’s Your Plan for That?”: How to Empower Your Kids
Does language matter?
Does the way you talk to your children make a difference?
If you’re like most parents, you suspect that it does, but you’re not sure exactly how. You know that there are times your children are more cooperative than others, but you can’t really put your finger on why.
It turns out that there may be an answer, and it does indeed come down to language.
You see, when we talk to our kids, we can do it in a way that discourages, enables, or keeps them from feeling capable, or we can do it in a way that feels empowering to them.
Discouraging statements, comments, and behaviors from us as parents will typically do one of two things:
- It will invite our kids to rebel. (Ack—probably not what you’re looking for.)OR
- It will create kids who feel dependent upon you to solve their every problem. (Probably not what you’re looking for, either.)
By contrast, empowering statements, comments, and behaviors help our children learn life skills, and help them feel capable, confident, and competent. An empowering approach fuels their intrinsic need to have significance in their own lives—that is, to have power or control over their own outcomes. (Something I’m guessing you do want for them.)
So, what’s the difference between the two? What do they sound like in real-life?
Many of us unintentionally default to enabling and discouraging statements like these:
(Said with some anger) “Again?!!! This time you are grounded. No driving, no friends. No nothing for one week!
“How about this? You go get it done right away. Get it done in the next 40 minutes and I’ll add $5 to your allowance.”
COVERING FOR THE STUDENT:
“Oh honey. You’ve had a tough day. Why don’t you take the day off, get your work done, and then turn it in tomorrow.”
“I’ll call the teacher for you and tell him you were sick last night.”
DOING STUDENT’S WORK:
“Well, I could help you do it.”
DOING STUDENT’S WORK:
“Wake me up when you get finished and I’ll type it for you.”
“You shouldn’t have to do this much work. I’ll call the principal.”
BLAMING THE STUDENT:
“Well, if you hadn’t partied all weekend, you’d have it done. What do you expect me to do now?”
THREATS (and hurtful disengagement):
“Well, maybe you should just skip it. Get an F—see if I care! It’s your life, you can ruin it any way you want to!”
TAKING OVER RESPONSIBILITY:
“Well, I think that we should set up a meeting with your teacher. I’ll call tomorrow morning and arrange for us to meet and take care of this problem.”
“It’s okay, Honey. I didn’t always turn in my homework either.”
“Why don’t you call Alex up and get him to read you the answers?”
COVERING FOR STUDENT:
“I’ll write your teacher a note asking her to extend the deadline because you couldn’t get it done.”
Can you recognize your own parenting in any of those statements? If you’re like most parents—including me—you know you’ve made one or two comments like these out of frustration, anger, or—perhaps even more likely—because doing for your child feels like a way of showing love to them.
There is a certain logic to that. And yet, the research shows that when we take responsibility for our children or their actions and decisions, we are actually taking responsibility from them.
So what can you say instead?
What do empowering statements and questions sound like? Check these out:
I have faith in you. I trust you to figure out what you need. I know that when it’s important to you, you’ll know what to do.
“I respect your privacy and want you to know I’m available if you want to discuss this with me.”
EXPRESSING YOUR LIMITS:
“I’m not willing to bail you out with your teacher. If your teacher wants more information, the three of us can get together to discuss the situation. I’ll be there while you explain.
LISTEN WITHOUT FIXING OR JUDGING:
“I would like to listen to what this means for you.”
CONTROLLING YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR:
“If you need my help with your homework, please let me know in advance.”
LETTING GO OF THEIR (AND YOUR) ISSUES:
“I hope you’ll go to college, but I’m not sure it’s important to you.” (said with kindness, not as a threat)
AGREEMENT NOT RULES:
“Could we sit down and see if we can work on a plan for homework that we can both live with?”
LOVING AND ENCOURAGING:
“I like you just the way you are and respect you to choose what is right for you.”
ASKING FOR HELP:
“I need your help. Can you explain to me why it isn’t important to you to do your homework?”
SHARE YOUR FEELINGS:
Share your truth by using the “I feel_____about/when______because______ and I wish_____.” This is a great model for children to acknowledge their feelings and wishes without expectations.
JOINT PROBLEM SOLVING:
“What is your picture of what is going on regarding your homework? Would you be willing to hear my concerns? Could we brainstorm together on possible solutions?”
“I’m feeling too upset to talk about this right now. Let’s put it on the agenda for the family meeting so we can talk about it when I’m not so emotional.”
INFORMATION VS. ORDERS:
“I notice you often leave your homework until the last minute and then feel discouraged about getting it done.”
“What is your plan?”
That last one has become a particular favorite of mine. “What’s your plan,” is a great way of telegraphing to my child that she probably needs to think things through a bit, but puts the onus on her to do that. It demonstrates that I trust her to figure it out, while still sending the message that I’m paying attention and that I care.
These empowering statements can take some practice—they may not be the way you were parented. Further, when we land in a place of worry for our children, we tend to fall into a bit of a dictatorship—barking orders, making demands, and issuing threats—or, as explained above, we become their servant, doing for them what they are capable of doing for themselves.
But in the end, language does matter. How our language makes our kids feel matters.
So, how do you think your kiddo would respond if you changed up your language?
Are you willing to give this new style a try? To give your kids a chance to experience having power over their own lives, the joy of contributing to others, and the ability to learn and recover from their mistakes with you there to support and guide them?
Try it out and let me know how it goes!
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Christy Keating is a certified parent coach, positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.
The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.