How To Communicate With Children - Using Golden Phrases

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

There are so many golden phrases parents can use in learning how to communicate with children!

We all know that words are extremely powerful in interpersonal relations, and words expressed from parent to child are yet many times more powerful! Therefore we as parents need to take advantage of this by using golden phrases. Famed psychologist from the 60’s Haim Ginott inspired the following, and I’ve synthesized his work and my own ideas. 

How To Communicate With Children - Using Golden Phrases - NY, NY

Get in the habit of saying, "You wish…" This validates the child's desire and gives him his wish in a fantasy. Say, "I have confidence that you'll…" This shows a child that we trust him to do the right thing and increases the likelihood that he will actually do it. Say "Then you really feel that…" This labels his feelings and brings them into conscious awareness so he can manipulate, process and resolve them.

How To Communicate With Children - Using Golden Phrases - NY, NY

Instead of giving an order say, “It would be helpful if...” This gives the child the pleasure of being able to himself initiate the help. This kind of pleasure encourages him. When a child is successful at something say, “You seem pleased at having finished the puzzle yourself.” This gives the child a conscious awareness of his ability to create his own satisfaction.
If a child is struggling with something say, “It can be frustrating when the toy doesn't work.” This shows you share and appreciate his struggle, that his effort is valuable. This respect gives him the strength to persevere. Say, “You really hate it when your aunt pinches your cheek.” This validates his feeling of annoyance and his right to have his boundaries respected. If a child says, “We never go anywhere”, don't argue, but reflect, “Oh, you'd like to go places more often, I'm glad you told me about it, now I know.” Notice you didn't have to promise any trips but have simply recognized her feeling. When a child complains that you favor his sibling say, “Oh, you feel I always take his side, thank you for sharing your feelings, now I know.” When a child paints a picture that he doesn't like don’t try to insist it’s really good, but reflect, “Oh, I see you're not satisfied with the way your picture turned out. You don't really like it so much. You don't like the colors.” This gives respect for the child’s opinions. If someone is calling a child names we should tell the child that “What they say about you is not important, but what’s important is what you say about yourself.”

How To Communicate With Children - Using Golden Phrases - NY, NY

How To Communicate With Children: What Not To Say

On the other hand there are some phrases we should never use. If a child is upset never say, “It's foolish to feel that way,” or “You have no reason to be upset,” or “You’re making a big fuss over nothing.” This denies the child the right to feel his feelings. Feelings are automatic and not a product of choice, but these phrases make him feel guilty and ashamed for having his very natural emotions. It teaches a child to repress them. Rather reflect, “Oh, I see you’re upset, you really don’t like that.” If a child is scared, don’t dismiss or minimize his fears, but recognize and validate them. “It can be scary when that happens,” or “Things can look scary at night.” Let the child talk about his fears. If a child gets hurt don’t dismiss or minimize his pain by saying “Don’t be upset, it’s only a scratch.” Recognize his experience, “A scratch can be painful, things can really hurt sometimes.” If a child says he's hot, don’t argue with his feelings by saying, “But it's cool in here.” Instead say, “It sounds like you're feeling hot and uncomfortable,” and that may likely resolve the whole problem. If a child likes something never say “That's too babyish for you.”

Allow him his feeling or desire.

When we don't accept her feelings we tell the child she doesn’t mean what she says, that she doesn’t know what she thinks, and doesn’t feel what she feels. This is not healthy. Only when she feels right can she think right. Only when she feels right can she do right.

For a detailed discussion of how to deal with a child's feelings, click here.

Please be aware that the above represents a parenting ideal and we don’t expect anyone to fulfill it perfectly. Therefore have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.
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If you are struggling with how to communicate with your child, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,

you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

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