There are THOSE words that you say that you can just toss out there almost without even thinking, and they really aren't worth a lot. You know, the ones that you can say without actually listening (when your boys are going on and on and on about who they think is the best basketball player of all time, and asking if you agree with their current top three). And then there are those that are BIG and make a huge difference and impact because they show investment and interest. Especially true when you use these words with your kids.
My thoughts on what some of those words might be.
I love you.
More than anything, our kids want us to love them. More than anything, they want us to be on their side 100% of the time, and to never walk away. Even as they get older and start testing the waters of their own social independence and identities away from 'home', we should consider ourselves lucky to count ourselves amongst their most important people. Those three little words reaffirm to them that we are there, no matter what, and that we always will be. They can test and push and yell and be difficult (wow, can they ever!), but with those three little words, we tell them that we are not going anywhere. Just as 'I love you, mommy' coming the other direction can erase a lot of mental trauma stemming from the aforementioned tantrums, arguments, and sibling warfare, these three words are powerful going the other way, too.
I don't know.
Wouldn't it be awesome if we actually had all of the answers? Wouldn't it be amazing if we actually KNEW it all and could help others to understand as well? Wouldn't it make things so much easier and less frustrating if we just automatically could do it everything? Handle every load? Well, we can't and we don't. And that's okay. What we can do is honestly tell our kids we don't know, and we can help them find out. Help ourselves find out. Letting our kids in on the secret that we don't actually know everything can be a little scary, but we are, after all, only human. And not knowing something is the perfect invitation to do one of my favorite things: learn something new.
Tell me more.
You want to know what your kids love to do even more than tell you about their most fun thing they did all day? Tell you even more about it. Especially when you ask them to so just that. When you invite them to tell them more about their soccer game at lunch, or their fight with their best friend, or the very special invitation they got from the girl they maybe like, you are telling them that you care about what is going on in their world, and that you find what they say interesting. Our kids want us to be interested in what they have to share with us. How can we not be? These are our very most favorite little people, right? Inviting them to tell us more give us more color, more detail and a more clear look into their lives. That is a gift all in itself.
Sometimes the best thing you can do - for your sanity, for your stress level, for your ability to plan and/or procrastinate - is just say 'no'. And sometimes, saying 'no' allows you to have the time/patience/inclination to say 'yes'. This is not news to you: your kids want to hear you say yes more often. Here's the thing, though: sometimes we just automatically deny or say no because it is easier or it is habit. What if you, instead, said yes, and then went along with them to do whatever it is you just agreed to let them do? What if you share this amazing experience/purchase/event with them, and saw how amazing it was and how much they appreciated it? What if it helped you (yes you, you proverbial 'old dog') learn a new trick? I bet that would be really pretty amazing, would it?
I hear you.
This might be news for you (especially if you are one of my Fixers, who feel like their place in this world is to fix everthing for everyone), but not everyone wants you to fix their problems for them. It is not always your job. Sometimes, your job is to simply listen, to be there and to acknowledge. Not to share like stories or to one-up. Not to get angry on their behalf or go yell at someone. No. Just listen. 'I hear you.' And, because you are so very important to your kids, that is enough.
An honest, heart-felt apology can be a hard pill to swallow. I know. But it is important, and an apology coming from you can also show your kids that we respect them, we respect their opinions, and when we do something that may make them feel as though we wronged them, we should apologize. It is what we would do for anyone we respect, right? Treat your kid with the same respect and kindness you may reserve for other adults; they are amongst the most important people in your lives, and they deserve it.
Gratitude is an important attribute that one has that not only is actually being thankful, and being able to show appreciation for received kindnesses, but also being able to return that kindness. When we let our kids know that we appreciate something they did, we are teaching them a valuable lesson: the more grateful we are, the happier and more content we will be. Rather than always looking for what else we can have/want/do, we look at what is already in front of us, and we are happy about it. What we have is amazing and it is enough. Grateful people are happier, less stressed, and more content with their place in the world. This is a wonderful attribute to model for your kids!
Inherent in 'Please' and 'thank you' is the understanding that there is a choice in whether or not the action is completed. Whomever you are thanking did not HAVE to do what you were asking of them. So, when you use ‘please’ with your kids, it isn’t a requirement, right (you ARE their parent, and you do have the right to ask them to do things), but using ‘please’ helps the to understand that the choice is implied, and it is a very kind choice on their part to do as their parent requested. They are choosing to be generous, thoughtful, or respectful, all of which are very positive attributes. As our kids start finding all of these pleasant and positive labels for themselves, they gain self-esteem which contributes to a positive outlook, and to resilience. They also get more resistant to peer pressure and bullying. Win win! All that from a little please.
I was wrong.
Yep, we're human. We sometimes make mistakes. We sometimes say or do things wrong. Show your kids that it is not that hard to admit to making a mistake; in fact, it's a great opportunity to learn something new, right? If we did things right 100% of the time, we would never change, never try something new, never learn, never grow from our mistakes. That’s the message we need to teach our kids: it’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to make mistakes. What is not okay is to give up, or not try a different way.
I'm proud of you.
In their hearts, our kids know that we are proud of them. They know we believe in them 100% and that we are in their corner, no matter what. They still need to hear it. They need you to tell them. And tell them often. They need to know that you are their safety net, even though they do not need you; they need to know that you are happy with all that they accomplish in a day; they need to know (and probably be mildly embarrassed by) you sharing stories of their achievements and their latest antics. From the moment you are sharing that just-out-of-the-womb pic to the gap-toothed grin and scruffy knees to the bajillion team photos (sports/academic/debate/whatever) to the cap-and-gown ear-to-ear grin (probably with the recently removed orthodontia) to everything in between. This person is an amazing product from the combination of your genes together with your parenting partner. Let them know you are so proud to be their parent as often as you.
Will these phrases fix all teenage angst? I wish I could tell you they will. What I can tell you is this: the more relatable you are to your teen, the more connections you have, the more time you invest, the more your teen will relish and enjoy your time together. Try them. Let’s see what happens.