You guys, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: this parenting gig is hard. I mean hard.
Yes, it’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever done, and every day I’m grateful for my three kids, but man. Some days, I just want to crawl up onto my own mom’s lap and hide away until these kids are grown, are through the tween and teen years, and come out on the other side as happy, well-adjusted, functioning adults.
Especially when our kids reach the tween and teen years, what we say and how we act towards them is so important. And because I know we all want to do the best things for our kids, I’ve reached out to some of my favorite people–friends and family, current colleagues and former colleagues, neighbors, counselors, and friends–tons of experts in the parenting world for some advice.
- What should we say to our kids?
- What do they need to hear from us?
I’m also thrilled to be working with Dove on one of what I believe is one of their strongest campaigns yet.
It’s the Dove Change One Thing campaign, and it hinges on the belief that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference in a girl’s self-esteem.
I wholeheartedly believe it to be true. It’s mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, teachers, neighbors–everyone plays a role in how children feel about themselves.
Dove has unveiled 80 new pins on Pinterest that provides free resources addressing today’s biggest barriers to a girl’s self-esteem, including ‘media and celebrity culture’ and ‘teasing and bullying.’
To further this mission, I’m sharing some really cool resources and a quick printable to throw in your back pocket about what kids need to hear their parents say. I’m starting with parents because so many of us are parents. If parents start these habits, hopefully everyone else will follow suit.
Here’s the skinny. . .
8 Things All Kids Must Hear Their Parents Say:
Before anything, check out the new video from Dove.
It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening. But honestly, the message sounded familiar to me.
Now, here’s what children–boys and girls–need to hear their parents say:
1. SAY: It’s okay to cry.
INSTEAD OF: Only girls cry. Only babies cry. Tough it out.
Crying is natural. Crying is healthy. And really? Everyone needs a good cry once in a while. Let. Your. Kids. Cry.
2. SAY: You understand math in a different way than I did. I’m excited to learn alongside you.
INSTEAD OF: I was always awful at math. I’m better at reading and writing. Ask your father for help.
Bottom line: we want to say anything that supports the growth mindset.
What’s the ‘growth mindset’ you ask? Simple: instead of believing that we’re born with the brains we got and that’s the end of the story, it’s about believing that with hard work, dedication, and endurance, we can become smarter, stronger, and more apt at whatever we set our mind to.
So often, our children believe that just because Mom or Dad were a certain way, that they’ll be the same way. It’s not true. Our kids are totally different that us, completely their own being. We have to remember that just because our sons or daughters may resemble us physically, their strengths and weaknesses differ.
3. SAY: Strong is beautiful.
INSTEAD OF: Look at that her perfectly slim body. She’s gorgeous.
We want to stress to our children that strength of body, mind, and spirit are what we strive for and that we can build those features up with hard work. Focusing more on who a person is as a person and not on the body is one way to move past the negative body talk.
I love these articles that support strong is beautiful:
- Raising happy teenagers: how mindfulness and meditation practices can build coping skills for life
- Help your daughter uncover her inner beauty
- Talk about the role of media in our perception of beauty
- Show your daughter the benefits of exercise
4. SAY: These jeans just don’t work for me. I need to find something I feel more confident wearing.
INSTEAD OF: Ugh. I look so fat in these jeans. My thighs are huge, and I am total whale.
I mean, sure. We all know there’s nothing worse than putting on a pair of jeans that should fit but don’t. It stinks. But especially in the presence of our children, we really must be careful about what we say and do.
Don’t blame it on the cake you ate for dessert; we don’t want our kids to believe that food is the enemy.
Don’t blame it on ‘that time of the month’; we don’t want our kids to start to dread the growth natural cycles.
Just breathe deeply. Peel those babies off, and find something else to wear.
Want a few more pointers? Read: Body talk: Use the power of your words to feel great.
5. SAY: I’m feeling stressed and angry because the house is a mess and I had a tough day at work.
INSTEAD OF: I’m fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
It’s kind of like the greeting habits we get into with our friends–often we get into the habit of shutting down our true feelings when the better thing to do is to be honest about how we feel.
Our children really need to see that we, as adults, also struggle with feelings of anger and frustration and that we’re able to talk about it. Talking about our problems helps open up the door for help.
Want some more awesome resources for communicating effectively with your kids?
- What to say and how to say it
- Talking to your daughter in a language she understands
- Communicating with teenagers: sharing life experiences and ‘mum wisdom’ with your daughter
6. SAY: I’m upset with your choices.
INSTEAD of: I’m upset with you.
Make sure distinguish the behavior from the person. Always.
And remember that when we use the word ‘choices’, we’re reminding our children that they have some control. They made the choice. And now they can make the decision to turn things around.
I love this article about peer groups and the pressure to fit in. The pressure is real, my friends. We need to remember that.
7. SAY: Let’s work through this together.
INSTEAD of: You’re fine. It will all be better tomorrow. It’s not a big deal.
OR, if he or she doesn’t want your help. . .
8. SAY: I’m always here for you. You are loved. I’m interested to see how you figure this out. You know you can come to me if you want other ideas.
INTEAD OF: You’re a smart kid. You’ll figure it out.
Our kids want to know that no matter what, through this tumultuous and uncertain time, that they are loved and they are not alone. It’s our job as parents to make them understand that above all.
Gone are the days of parents letting their kids roam freely through the neighborhood until the streetlights turned on. Things are different today. The social media piece is a monster unlike anything you or I have fought in our day.
I don’t know much. But I know this: our kids need us today more than ever.
- Listen first. Really, our children must feel as though we’re listening to them before anything. As Oprah says, everyone in the world has the same basic need: to be heard. Everyone wants validation, and they want to be seen, heard, and that what they’re saying matters.
- Unplug. Nothing says ‘you don’t matter’ like talking to a person while they’re texting, surfing through Instagram, or liking Facebook photos. So unplug.
- Be busy with your hands. A good friend and expert in family dynamics once told me that the best way to communicate with tweens and teens was to be busy–that kids are more likely to open up while a parent was driving, making dinner, or folding laundry rather than during a quiet face-to-face. I’ve tried it. And it works.
Want to print this out so you can throw it in your back pocket? Sure you do.
You can download and print out 8 Things Kids Must Hear Their Parents Say here: what kids need to hear parents say teachmama.com
Please, if you choose to share this–and we hope you do!–link to this post instead of the attachment page! Thank you!
Check out and follow the Dove Self-Esteem pinterest board:
Check out and follow my Self-Esteem pinterest board:
What would you add to this list? What else do you think kids need to hear their parents say?
We’d love to hear it–leave your ideas in the comments below.
Huge and happy thanks to the following people who contributed to this piece by sharing their expertise and insight: Kelly Wickham Hurst, of Mocha Momma; Bon Crowder, of MathFour; Mandi Strunk Ortwein, Laurie White, of LaurieMedia; Anne Cordell Moriarty of LifeZingCoach; Ana Flores of Latina Bloggers Connect; Teri Chadwick Edwards; Deborah Gilboa of Ask Dr. G; A’Driane Nieves, of addyeB; Amy Murray, of Miss Night’s Marbles; Denise Fisher Deffinbaugh; Jenny Kramer, of Fickle Resale; Kelly Whalen, of Centsible Life; Carolyn Roman; Marnie Craycroft, of Carrots are Orange; Taryn Beauchemin Homolash; Katie McClain; Amanda Hershock Harris; Kim Martinez Spurry, of Kim Spurry Fitness; and Molly O’Brien.
fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Dove. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.