In my last post, I described a situation familiar to most parents of young children: a seemingly ordinary drive when my two-year-old began to totally freak out. She seemed to go from 0 to 60 mph in about 5 seconds flat and none of us knew how to help her because she didn’t have the words to express her frustration or what was wrong.
Every parent meets “the beast” in their child somewhere around that second birthday— there’s a reason why most call them the “terrible” two’s. Although she has two older siblings, parenting young children is exhausting and I find that I have forgotten some of the finer points of dealing with these rapidly growing and developing little people.
After that night in the car, I became more committed to helping my youngest express herself.
When each of our children were babies, we began with infant sign language- teaching them to sign simple words with easy hand gestures. We taught just a few of them that we knew they would use a lot: “thirsty” (or drink), “more” (as in, more please!), “all done,” “stop,” and “thank you.” (You can find lots of resources and specialists online to help you teach simple signs to your infant if that is your current state in parenting.) It is a huge relief to understand what your baby wants and needs even though they can’t form the words with their mouths yet.
Some of those high frequency words / phrases were the first our children learned to speak as well– after da-da, and ma-ma, of course! And you will see most of them in this expanded list of 10 EASY phrases to teach and empower your toddler or preschooler.
With the first 5 phrases, (as shared in my previous post,) I also explained why I might choose to teach her to say, “let’s share” instead of “my turn”…or teaching her to ask for help before I rush to do something for her. Each phrase takes time and effort to offer and demonstrate for a child, but once they get them, it can make the difference between a slight annoyance at a selfish playmate and an all-out tug-of-war over a random toy.
The goal is to empower our children and help them build confidence in their interactions with others.
Of course, every child is unique and develops social skills at their own rate, so these phrases are just options and ideas that I share with you, hoping that at least one if not all of them, might prove helpful at some point in these early years. I am no expert in child development, just experienced. I have raised three children and I too, enjoy helpful advice from other seasoned mothers while passing along tips that might help you as well!
Here are the last of the 5 EASY phrases to teach and empower your toddler / preschooler:
6. That hurts! – A seemingly obvious phrase, but it is applicable to many circumstances: rough play, combing tangled hair, snaps that pinch, too-tight shoes, a wet / messy diaper etc… Toddlers are quickly familiarized with pain, whether it be from falling, tripping, bumping their head, and whatnot. It is very challenging learning to navigate a big world with tiny bodies, and sometimes that learning curve feels more like a cliff to our little ones! Giving them the words to express those unpleasant feelings is empowering and clues the parent / caregiver in to what WE can do to help address their discomfort.
7. Please stop– Giving children voice in expressing what they do and do not like is critical in an stage where personal boundaries are violated with frightening regularity.
Some boundaries are violated by caregivers enforcing safety (such as physically stopping them from touching a hot stove), structure (restraining them from running into the street or traffic), or in spanking (no child enjoys being spanked of course, so this violates a boundary with them.)
However, boundaries are also violated by those who do not realize, understand, or perceive their actions as threatening or hurtful to the child.
A close friend of mine never tickles her children and cannot tolerate even fun, flirty tickling from her husband. She had experienced excruciating pain from a babysitter with long fingernails who tickled her relentlessly. The sitter never realized the searing pain she inflicted or noticed the scratches left from her “tickle torture” games. My friend had not been taught or empowered to tell someone “no” or to “stop.’
“Please stop” can be used to ward off any unwelcome or uncomfortable contact by an adult, sibling, or playmate. ** Note to parents, this phrase only becomes powerful when we honor it as our child uses it…we MUST stop if our child asks, unless it is a matter of safety, disobedience, or discipline. If we are tickling tummies, brushing tangled hair, or being too forceful, and they ask us to stop, we MUST respect this request to empower our child and reinforce efficacy of this word.
Usually a brief break is all that is needed before play, hair-brushing, or the activity can resume.
There is obviously much more to be said about helping our children stay safe in a world that preys upon its most vulnerable and I can’t possibly cover it all here, but I believe this is a good starting point in establishing the importance of giving a child the words to convey their dislike or discomfort at any activity and affect immediate change.
8. Time Out – This is a great tool for children in addition to parents! Obviously, many of us use time out with out children to discourage undesirable behaviors and create a time and space for pause, but our family has used time out for toys, too!
Toys that create problems in a small group or that are special to an individual child have frequently gone into “toy time out.” This gave us a way to remove a toy that was difficult to determine who had experience fair play time, or did not work well within the immediate context of a group. This way, we didn’t have to erroneously discipline a child (we can’t see / hear everything) and no one feels slighted.
But did you know your preschooler may come to appreciate time outs? When our preschooler is out of sorts and can’t be calmed, she has often said “time out.” When I asked incredulously, just to clarify if this is what she WANTS and she nods yes, I walk her over to our step (bottom of the stairs) and sit her down and tell her, “Okay, you are in time out.” She sits for a little bit, sometimes crying, sometimes not, but she knows she cannot get up until she has settled.
We usually ask her to be through with her crying before getting up. Strangely, she seems to appreciate the space to sit, cry, and collect herself before she is invited to rejoin the activity. I don’t know how long she will continue to ask for these time outs, but they have indeed served her well when she has chosen them for herself, as they personally serve me well when I practice them also!
9. I’m sorry – Toddlers not only need to hear this when we or others have hurt them, they need help articulating their own feelings of worry, guilt, and sorrow over hurting someone else. They may say it too often or even unnecessarily in the beginning, but when spoken at the right time in the right way, it brings quick relief from those negative feelings and swift resolution to conflicts.
I see this a LOT with my own children…big sister is trying to help little sister get her shoes on and into the car seat, which little sister resists, but big sis understands MUST get done. Little sister lashes out and wallops her on the face causing hurt feelings and a very sore face. Big sis holds back tears, and little one knows she has gone too far. She too, starts crying. The pain of hurting her beloved big sis bothers her more now than getting buckled into her car seat. Then she remembers the words “I’m sorry” much to the surprise of everyone and immediately big sis is moved to forgive and little one has admitted her mistake as best she can. (Sometimes the apology is spontaneous, and other times, comes after brief explanation of why her actions were wrong, but either way, they need the words to offer the ones they have hurt both intentionally or accidentally.)
10. I Forgive You This one goes hand in hand with “I’m sorry” as it reassures the one offended that their actions or mistakes will not be held against them. Some children, especially emotionally sensitive ones, are uncomfortable with conflict, sensing other’s feelings towards them, will need reassurance that their mistake or poor choice will not be held against them.
I forgive you reassures the child that they or their actions are no longer subject to punishment. This also lays a great foundation for introducing the love and forgiveness that Christ brings to our lives when we are confronted with our own sin and violation of His law. Too bad we often lose such sensitivity as we grow and mature!
I do hope and pray that this list of phrases does help you encourage and empower your little one(s). This is only a starting point and I am sure many other phrases have been sparked in your mind as simple, powerful, and effective– so please share them with us!