As parents, we can help children harness 21st century skills by using language that fosters and promotes independence and problem solving. We don’t have to sound like our parents when talking to our children about their behavior. Here are some ways to change the messages we unknowingly give to our children.

Instead of “Stop it!” “Don’t do that,” or “No!”

Try to say, “I won’t let you do that.” Then say what they can do instead. You can help them to understand your limit by calmly expressing it to them and allowing them to move on with another option. With older children who are more verbal, you can help them make a plan for what they can do instead. Making a plan is also something you can do ahead of time to prepare for when a repetitive behavior occurs.


Giving children room to learn and participate helps them grow into their roles as members of society. If they are always stopped in their tracks for any behavior, you are teaching them that you will always be there to correct them, and that you are the only one in charge of making them stop. This can send messages to children that they are incapable, when really they are capable. Yes, it’s true you have to make children stop if they have lost control. However, most of the time when children are acting in a way you would not like, that’s the time when your guidance can help them practice self-regulation.

Instead of “Why are you acting like this?” or “Stop whining.”

Try to see things through their eyes. Aside from the most obvious needs like sleep, hunger, and the basics, what else do you already know is going on in their lives? Are your children going through transitions? Is something new? Are they unfamiliar with a new environment or routine?

Also, as parents we can always keep in the back of our minds that body and brain development is happening at warp speed for children. That can make it necessary sometimes for them to release in a way that is uncomfortable for an adult.

So what do you say as a parent? Look at their emotions first. “I see you are upset,” or “You seem to be frustrated,” are great ways to start a supportive conversation. Once the child’s emotions are calmer, more conversation can happen. When people of any age are in fight-or-flight mode, we cannot process things like language and reasoning in the logical part of our brain. There are also times that simply acknowledging an emotion is all a child needs. Again, the child is capable. At times he or she can take care of their own setbacks.

The goal is for children to eventually check in with themselves and solve problems on their own. We can support them in that journey by not stopping what they are going through, but allowing them to explore it.


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