Author Archives: Janelle Durham

About Janelle Durham

I teach Family Inventors' Lab, a STE(A)M enrichment class in Bellevue, Washington. I am also a parent educator for Bellevue College, a childbirth educator for Parent Trust for Washington Children, the former program designer for PEPS - the Program for Early Parent Support, a social worker, and mother of 3 kids - age 25, 21, and 7.)

Teaching Language is Not Just About Saying More Words

The Oto Monitor

There is a new product called Oto – “the First Monitor for Your Baby’s Healthy Brain Development”. (Learn about it at https://www.oyalabs.com/)

They’re  electronic monitors you place around your home. The website says they use AI and Natural Language Processing to tally how many words a child hears, how many engaged, back-and-forth exchanges you have with your child, and the quality of your language including the ratio of positive to negative words.

If this were an academic study that I’d been asked to participate in with my child, I would absolutely say yes, because it would be fascinating to participate and see the research results!

But I’m a little troubled by the marketing of the device. It says “These indicators are proven to be critical for their IQ and emotional development.” The implication is that this device is essential for helping you ensure your child reaches their full potential. They also say “The number of words you speak to your child daily is a core metric – the more language, the better child’s outcomes.”

I worry that the parents who purchase this device would then become anxious, feel guilty when they weren’t talking, and become overly focused on talking and talking and talking to their child. This onslaught of words would be exhausting for me to produce as a parent and exhausting for a child to hear and may totally miss the point of how children most effectively learn language.

Bronson and Merryman (source) say “For years, the advice has been that the way to kick-start a child’s language learning was to simply expose kids to massive amounts of language. However, as we explain in our book NurtureShock, the newest science has concluded that the central role of the parent is not to push massive amounts of language into the child’s ears. Rather, the central role of the parent is to notice what’s coming from the child and respond accordingly.”

Let’s look more at what we know about language learning.

Can there be too little language in a child’s world?

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There are definitely “linguistically poor” households, and this can absolutely lead to significant “vocabulary gaps.” In general, children from households with lower income and lower family education know fewer words. (source of chart above) Some examples from research:

  • A child in a low income home will hear an average of 616 words in an hour, a child in an average professional home will hear 2153. (source)
  • In one year, children from poor families hear 250,000 utterances at home, while children from wealthy families hear 4,000,000.  (source)
  • By age four, middle and upper class children hear 15 million more words than in working-class families, and 30 million more than in families on welfare. (source)
  • By second grade, a middle income child will know ~6020 words. A low income child will know ~4168. (source)
  • By 18 months, toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency. (source)
  • 5-year-old children of lower SES score two years behind on language tests. (source)
  • When 18 month olds were shown two objects, then one was named aloud, higher SES toddlers could identify the right object in 750 milliseconds, lower SES toddlers were 200 milliseconds slower to respond. That slower mental processing speed means they have a harder time keeping up with teacher’s words. (source)

Not only are there fewer words spoken in a lower income household, the discussions that do happen are likely to be focused on daily life, such as what to eat, work schedule, and other practical topics. They are less likely to have wide-ranging discussions around the dinner table on a variety of topics. The parents may also work multiple jobs, which means less opportunity for reading bedtime stories. This may lead to the same words being used a lot, and fewer novel words that broaden the child’s vocabulary.

Also, in single parent households or homes where one partner is away at work, it may be more likely that the television is on in the background much of the time, which leads to less engagement and conversation between parent and child. (Source)

A child who understands fewer words and has slower processing speed  when they begin school will not just start behind – they’ll stay behind. As the teacher talks and some kids understand all the words and all the concepts, and some kids can’t even understand the words used, they get lost before reaching the concepts. (source for graph below)

capture 2

So yes, if there are too few words being used in a child’s environment, that child can be word poor. And yes, that will create academic challenges. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is to just talk a lot more…

What Is Responsive Language?

Imagine two scenes.

  • A toddler is sitting and poking at her cheerios and poking at her spoon so it rattles on the table. The parent, wanting to be sure the child is receiving mental stimulation, talks about their day: “As soon as you’re done with your breakfast, we’re going to put your new red shoes on and we’re going to go for a walk, and maybe we’ll see some butterflies again. Remember, the last time we went to the bakery to buy bread and we saw two blue butterflies?” The child keeps poking at her food as the parent talks. “I’m going to get a book now – we can read it together.”
  • As the toddler pokes, she looks up at the parent for their reaction. The parent sits with the child and says “you’re poking your cheerios with your finger. You pushed them all into a big pile on that side of your dish.” As the parent speaks, they point at the big pile. The child pushes a few more cheerios into the pile. “Now there are five more cheerios in the pile.” Then the child pats the spoon. “You’re using your hand to pat the spoon. The spoon makes a fun noise, doesn’t it?” The parent pats the spoon and says “It’s going rattle, rattle.” The toddler rattles the spoon some more, parent says “rattle, rattle” again. Then the child holds up the spoon to show it to the parent. “You picked up the spoon – can you use it to pick up some cheerios?”

In the first example, the parent’s voice is mostly background noise for the child whose attention is focused on the cereal and the spoon. There is also the chance of “criss-cross labeling” where if every time the child touches the spoon, the parent happens to talk about butterflies, the child could get confused about whether the thing they’re touching is called butterfly.

In the second example, the parent closely observed the child’s actions and where the child’s attention was focused, then talked about that. This gives the child the words for what they are experiencing in the moment with all their senses. This builds a much stronger connection between the words and their meaning. When you talk about a spoon later, the child can remember this moment and remember what the spoon felt like in their hand and the noise it made on the table.

To some parents, it may seem like talking about cheerios and a spoon is boring. They may feel like they need to jazz up the child’s learning with talking about bigger ideas. But slowing down to your toddler’s pace and tuning in to what they are in the process of exploring offers a meaningful connection for their learning.

There are three characteristics of responsive language: it’s prompt (happens within seconds of the child’s behavior, it’s contingent (related to the behavior) and it’s appropriate (parent responds in a positive and meaningful way). (source)

So, if a child showed a parent a ball, the parent would quickly respond, “Oh, you have a  ball in your hand!” If the child said “ba”, the parent would say “Ball. Yes, it’s a green ball.”

Does responsive language increase learning?

  • One study showed that when parents were more responsive, their children would reach all these milestones sooner: imitating parent’s words, first words, speaking 50 words, combining words to make a “sentence” and talking about the past.
  • A parenting style that includes parental warmth, high expectations and clear routines is associated not just with language ability but also better memory and higher achievement. When parents use a lot of negative strategies, their children have more limited language skills. (Source)
  • Children who hear more child-directed speech – not just overheard speech – process language faster and learn words more quickly. (source)

Here is a summary of other research:

In the second year, when infants begin to understand and produce words and simple phrases, responsiveness predicts the sizes of infants’ vocabularies… the diversity of infants’ communications… and the timing of language milestones… Infants of high-responsive mothers (90th percentile) … achieved language milestones such as first words, vocabulary spurt, and combinatorial speech, 4 to 6 months earlier than infants of low-responsive mothers… Toddlers of low-responsive fathers were 5 times more likely to display cognitive delays than were toddlers of high-responsive fathers… fathers’ responsiveness to their 2- and 3-year-olds predicted toddlers’ cognitive and language abilities within and across time… (source – includes citations for all studies)

How can you use responsive language?

Dr. Dana Suskind, author of Thirty Million Words recommends three steps for parents and caregivers to expand a child’s vocabulary:

  1. Tune In by paying attention to what your child is focused on
  2. Talk More with your child using lots of descriptive words
  3. Take Turns with your child by engaging in his or her conversation. (source)

Additional recommendations:

  • The Hanen Centre says that step 1 is OWL: “Observe Wait Listen. The parent needs to give the child the opportunity to take that first turn, so that the parent has something to respond to.”  (Learn more about OWL – Observe, Wait, Listen.)
  • Their next step is follow the child’s lead: imitate what the child says, interpret (what the child would say if they had the words), comment (giving the child words to describe what they are doing) or join in child-directed play. (Learn more.)
  • Use parentese – that sing song higher voice parents use to talk to babies.
  • Use motion – point to things as you talk about them, touch them, shake them. All this helps the child focus their attention while you label the objects.
  • Talk about what they want to talk about (what they are doing or are paying attention to in the moment). Don’t change topics quickly.
  • Don’t interrupt their attempts to communicate with you. Wait for them to get their thought out. Look at their face to show you are listening.
  • Children also benefit from hearing lots of different people speak – at different pitches, tempos, and with different accents and facial expressions. So take them out in the world, so they have an opportunity to interact with diverse people.
  • Reading to your child is also a huge influence on language learning. Learn about how to read to a child and lots of other literacy topics.

Don’t feel like you have to talk all the time

For brain development in general, children need three things: novelty (new experiences), repetition (the chance to explore something over and over to learn about it in depth from all angles), and down time (restful periods without lots of input when they can process all that they’ve seen and heard). This is true of language too.

Children need new words, they need to hear the same ones over and over in different contexts, and they also need quiet time for their inner thoughts to unfold. It is fine to have long periods of silence at home too. Even if you choose to have an Oto monitor listening in.

Learn more about responsive language:

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Child-Directed Play: Floortime

floortime

Child-directed play is an intentional practice where you sit and play with a child, allowing them to guide the play, as  you follow along. The Greenspan Floortime approach describes this as:

  • Follow your child’s lead, i.e. enter the child’s world and join in their emotional flow;
  • Challenge her to be creative and spontaneous; and
  • Expand the action and interaction to include all or most of her senses and motor skills as well as different emotions

Floortime was created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan for children on the autism spectrum and those with developmental delays. It can also be used with typically developing children. It is helpful for any parent or caregiver who wants new ways to interact and have fun with a child, wants to feel more engaged with and connected to a child, and wants to know how best to interact with a child to foster communication skills, social-emotional development and cognitive learning.

How Floortime works:

Set the Stage

  • Find a time when you can focus on play, when you and your child are both well-rested and fed.
  • Be present – set aside your mobile devices and other distractions, relax, and stay focused on the interaction.
  • Gather items that interest your child and have them available, but not so many that it’s overwhelming.
  • Your position is important. Be in front of them – that’s better for connecting than it is to be side by side or for you to be behind them. Get down to their level – typically on the floor. Your physical nearness, affectionate touch, and eye contact help them to stay engaged.

Follow their Lead

  • Let them choose the activity. Offer toys that they love. It doesn’t matter what you play, it matters how you play.
  • Join in their play. Match their level of play – if they’re low key, you are too. If they’re very energetic, match that (without escalating up to wild.)
  • Don’t feel like you have to teach them. Just let them explore and discover. Copy the way that they play. If they signal that they want your help doing something, then help them, but don’t just jump in and do things they haven’t asked for.
  • Measuring intent. Watch their gaze, expressions and body language. Where is their attention? Let them know it’s OK to take initiative and start an activity.
  • If they are motivated, don’t change the activity. It’s OK to do the same thing over and over again.
  • Be playful! Find joy in your interaction. Their current interest may not be inherently interesting to you. But tune into how it gives them joy.
  • Look for the gleam in their eye. That’s a great sign that it’s working.

If it’s not working: Are you trying to control the play too much – do you need to step back? Are you being too passive and aimlessly following them around – how can you join them in interactive play? (Learn more about following their lead.)

Narration

If you feel tempted to ask a lot of questions, or do a lot of teaching, or you’re just over-talking, try observing silently, or responding to their play with simple reactions “uh oh!”, “what’s that?”, “hurray”.

If you want to talk, try narrating what they are doing. “You’re putting the toys in the basket. You noticed there’s only one toy left on the floor. Whoa, you dumped all the toys back on the floor so you can do it again!”

This narration tells them that you’re paying attention and that what they’re doing is important to you. You’re also building their language skills by giving them words to describe the things they do.

Use Emotional Expression and Responses to Engage

  • Expression – Use your eyes, facial expression, tone of voice and body language to connect and communicate. Your emotions (especially anticipation, surprise, and delight) help to attract their attention and keep them engaged. When you pair your words with emotional expression, it gives your child a better understanding of both the words and the emotions.
  • Observation and Response – Can you read their emotional cues? Do your expressions engage them more? If so, keep it up. If they’re seeming overwhelmed by you, back down a little – you’re following their lead.

Circles of communication

When Floortime is working well, it’s like a game of volleyball or ping pong. You know your child’s interests, so you “serve” by offering a toy. They “bounce back” to you by taking the toy. You talk to them about the toy. This back and forth interaction is where all the magic learning takes place. A young toddler, or a child with autism or delays, may only be able to go back and forth a few times before disconnecting. The older they are and the more play experience they have, the better they’ll get at this. The goal of Floortime is to build persistence – more of these circles of connection.

Once it’s working well, you settle into a flow of play – Floortime calls this “getting it cooking.”

If it’s not working: Are you waiting long enough for them to respond? Are they overwhelmed – are you talking too much or moving too fast? Are you following their interests and joining them where they are? (Watch for any expression, sound, or gesture that might invite you into their play.)

Stretch the Play

Once you’re “cooking” – you’re connected and have a nice back-and-forth pattern established, then you can work to take their play up a level.

Expand the play by adding in some new toy or new aspect of play, or offering some choices. For example, if they’ve been using blocks to make a stable for their toy horses, you can put a “roof” on one of the “stalls.” If they’ve served you the toy pizza over and over, ask for a drink to go with it. If you were playing peek a boo, drop the scarf and pretend to have a hard time finding it.

Expand just enough, but not too much. Your goal is sustained engagement – we want to keep out back-and-forth exchange going as long as we can. So, if your new extension keeps them engaged, and you’ve got that gleam, keep it up. If you lose their attention, back up a little.

If it’s not working: Some parents try to intervene too much. Some are too passive and don’t help child stretch.  Try to find the balance between following their lead and challenging them to interact, communicate, and think.

Tailoring to the Individual Child

Some children have sensory preferences – they really respond to sounds or to touch or to movement. Some children are easily overwhelmed by certain kinds of stimulation – sound or touch or smell might be too intense for them. Children may also prefer different speed of interaction – some like things to move slowly, some like fast moving play. This worksheet may be helpful if you feel like there are sensory or timing issues involved.

Benefits of Floortime

Some parents wonder – if I’m just playing the same simple game over and over, is my child actually learning anything? According to Autism Speaks, the back and forth play of Floortime “builds the foundation for shared attention, engagement and problem solving. Parents and therapists help the child maintain focus to sharpen interactions and abstract, logical thinking.” They also note these key aims: self-regulation, engagement in relationships, communication skills, and emotional learning.

Learn more

Learn more about tips for Floortime sessions, and see videos of parents and caregivers demonstrating these skills:

Child-Directed Play

sand2

For a young child, most of their activities are directed by adults: we tell them when they need to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, listen to stories and so on. Even when they play, sometimes we direct them – telling them how they should play with something, or else we interrogate them – “what color is that car? how many cars are there?”

Just take a moment to imagine what that would be like for you to be told what to do all day long. And then when you finally settle in to some “me time”, someone comes along and asks you question after question. It would drain your energy tanks, right? You might get cranky at that person. You might start to tune out their questions, or resist their suggestions.

Do you have a child who you feel is tuning you out – not listening to you? Do you have a child who is resisting doing what you tell them to do?

Try listening to them. Try letting them tell you what to do for a little while each day. I don’t mean put them in charge of discipline for you! What I mean is spend a little time each day that’s all about play, and even better, is all about your child deciding what to play, and you following along. Let them take the lead for a while and have fun discovering where they’ll lead you.

The Incredible Years program talks about “building up your child’s bank account” of energy, connection, and good will towards you as the parent. If they have a full bank, they’re much more willing to listen to you and do what you ask than if they’re feeling drained.

Many things fill their bank, including: praise, support, love, attention, and special time playing with them one-on-one.

To build a stronger, more positive relationship with your child, try dedicating at least ten minutes a day to a focused session of child-directed play. Here are some tips:

  • Call it “special time” or some other words that cue them that this is the time when they get to decide what happens.
  • Let them choose the activity.
  • Follow their lead. Model cooperation by doing what your child asks you to do.
  • Don’t focus on “the right way” to play, and don’t feel like this needs to be a time when you’re teaching them. This is just about building connections.
  • Praise their initiative and encourage their creativity.
  • Laugh and have fun.
  • Don’t quiz them on academic questions that have a right answer – these questions drain the bank. Either they don’t know the answer, which is stressful, or they (and you) already know the answer, so nothing new is learned by asking the question. Instead, try:
    • Silent observation.
    • Narration – talk about what you see them doing. “You picked up the red car and ran it down the ramp. Now you have the blue car.” Try to use descriptive comments much more often than questions.
    • Notice what they’re interested in and talk about that. That way, they’re setting the agenda, not you.
    • Open-ended questions – questions that you don’t already know the answer to. “What are you planning to do next?” “What would happen if…?”
  • Give just enough help to help them with frustration, but don’t take over the play, and don’t leap in to solve every problem for them.

You can use the Attention Principle while you play. Pay special attention to anything that you like about what they’re doing: “I appreciate that you shared that with me”, “you kept trying even though you were frustrated, and look, you did it!” If they do something annoying or something you don’t want to encourage, just ignore it. (Unless of course it is unsafe or breaks a family rule – you do still need to set reasonable limits.)

You’re modeling for your child what cooperative play looks like, and helping them develop social-emotional skills that will help them also play well with others.

Learn more tips for child-directed play using Greenspan’s Floortime method. https://gooddayswithkids.com/2019/01/15/floortime/

For parent educators and other professionals, here’s a handout on this topic you can share with parents: Child Directed Play handout.

Booster Seats for Travel

On a recent field trip day at my son’s school, I was watching kindergarten to second graders try to lug around their booster seats and car seats, and watching volunteer parents try to figure out how to strap the car seats into their cars. (I personally just volunteered to drive, because it was easier than unfastening and refastening my son’s car seat!) Then, one child came up holding this little thing the size of a clutch purse, telling me it was her car seat. (Image from Amazon)

I talked with the mother a little, but was having a hard time seeing how this could possibly be safe – so I did my research. (Meaning – I contacted a friend who is a CPST carseat technician and asked her! She gave me some great articles to read.)

The seat was a mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat. It’s advertised as being

  • More than 10x smaller than a regular booster seat and just as safe
  • The most advanced, compact, and portable booster seat ever invented designed for kids aged 4 and up, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall

It’s available for around $40.

At first glance I didn’t understand how it worked… I thought the purpose of a booster seat was to get the child up high enough that the shoulder belt goes across their chest, not across their neck. This seat is 3/4 of an inch thick, so how does it work?

Instead of thinking of the mifold as a booster seat, think of it as a belt-positioner. Instead of lifting the child up, it pulls the seatbelt down. The belt guides on the seat ensure that the lap belt goes low across the child’s hips (not their belly – on top of all their internal organs, and not on the thighs where they could slip forward in case of an accident.) The strap pulls the shoulder belt down lower, so it will go across the child’s shoulder and chest, not their neck.

To transport, it folds up very small, with the strap wrapped around it. To install it, you unfold it, press a button to open the seat belt guides up wider (there are three possible widths to adjust to your child’s size). Use the setting that is closest to your child’s thighs without touching their thighs. Once child is seated on the mifold, you take the lap belt through the belt guides on the seat, then use the strap to clip the shoulder belt down at the right height. (Watch the videos on Amazon or in the reviews.)

Check for proper belt fit: the lap belt must fit snugly, low across the hip bones, just touching the top of the things. The shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder.

It appears that the mifold works very well with many children in many vehicles. However, in some vehicles, it just can’t position the belts correctly, which means it would not be safe in a crash.

Here are detailed reviews of the mifold, from Car Seat Blog and Car Seats for the Littles. Here is a video review. Here’s another video review. (Note: the video reviewers do not appear to be car seat experts.) Here are the ease of use ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Safety note: the IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, will not rate the mifold because, instead of raising the child up, “the device pulls the belt down to the child. There aren’t any data about how this new type of device works with real kids in real crashes. For these reasons, the Mifold isn’t comparable to the boosters that IIHS evaluates and isn’t included in the ratings.”

The consensus of the reviews cited above, and user reviews on Amazon:

Pros: Incredibly portable! Great for travel, taxis, and so on. Affordable. Older children are not embarrassed to use it, as they may be with another booster when their friends have outgrown theirs.

Cons: Won’t fit all kids in all cars. Can slip around on seat or fold up a bit, which can make it hard to get into. Younger children won’t likely be able to buckle and unbuckle themselves as this is a bit tricky.

My personal choice, as a mom – not as an expert in the field – is that the next time I go on a solo trip with my son, I’ll get a mifold. As a handicapped mom (I have one leg), being able to tuck his carseat into a suitcase instead of having to schlep a separate seat around airports is a huge advantage to me. But for this week’s trip when my husband will be with me, we’ll just stick to our traditional backless booster. We’ve got two 2-hour drives and two 4-hr drives so want to ensure he’s comfortable and up high enough to see out the window of our unknown rental vehicle.

For our everyday use, my son is still in a 5 point harness seat in my car and my husband’s car, or in a traditional booster for the once a week ride with grandpa or school field trips where I won’t be around to help ensure it fits properly in another parent’s car.  I want him to be as safe as possible, so I always keep him at each level of car seat as long as I can. (My son is 8, but he’s just 50 inches and 52 pounds, so he’s got a long ways to go before he maxes out the height and weight limits on seats.)

But if a highly portable carseat is a necessity for you, this may be a good option.

The mifiold is available at Amazon, Target and elsewhere.

Alternatives:

Some alternative small portable booster seats to consider for travel, carpooling, field trips, after school playdates, visits with grandparents, taxi or bus rides:

BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seat, Black. Here’s a review of the BubbleBum. This is an inflatable booster seat! So, it weighs one pound and squashes up small in the suitcase. $27

Ride Safer Delight Travel Vest, Small Yellow – Includes Tether and Neck Pillow cost around $150. This is a vest that you buckle child into, then buckle it into the car. Comes with a bag so kids can carry their own seat easily. Helpful when there’s not enough space in the back seat to fit three car seats in a row. Putting one child in this travel vest can solve that problem.

Or, if you just want a fairly small and portable traditional booster seat:  Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Backless Booster. Here’s the carseatblog’s review of the TurboBooster. $33.

Note: I am NOT a Child Passenger Safety Technician. I am not an expert in this field, so please do your own research with reputable experts to make the safety decisions that are best for your child.

Best Podcasts for Kids

Logos for 9 kids podcasts

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time hearing my kids’ little voices from the back seat as I drive. And when they try to strike up a conversation while I’m focusing on driving, I have a hard time following it and we both get frustrated. So, I love using car time to listen to something together which is entertaining and/or educational. When my older kids were little in the late 90’s, we listened to Boomerang audio magazine (you can still purchase recordings of this), Broadway shows and kids’ music. As they moved into their tween and teen years, we shared the experience of listening to audiobooks together, which helped us connect. These days, with my youngest, we listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you’re not familiar with what a podcast is, check out my post on Podcasts 101.)

Benefits of Podcasts

  • Free. There are lots of great podcasts you can listen to for free.
  • Portable. Can listen to anywhere – at home while doing art or Legos, in the car on the way to school, on an airplane, or at the dentist’s office.
  • Screen free distraction. We all know there are times where parents just need a few minutes to themselves to get something done. We may be in the habit of turning to screens for this, but audio is also a good option.
  • Educational. Kids can learn about science, history, ethics and more.
  • Learning benefits. Listening to podcasts trains them to listen closely and builds vocabulary. If they read along with a transcript while listening, it can help build their reading proficiency. Audio allows them to visualize ideas in their head, unlike videos. And:

When words are spoken aloud, kids can understand and engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level would normally allow. Aural learning is particularly helpful for students who have dyslexia, are blind, or for whom English is their second language, who might struggle with reading or find it helpful to follow a transcript while listening. source – see also http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-aloud-build-comprehension

Potential Pitfalls

  • Ads. Some podcasts have no ads. Some have ads that kids can tell are ads. But many have a host reading the ad, which makes them more powerful for kids and may distract from the main point of the podcast.
  • Inappropriate content. Many podcasts NOT kid appropriate. (I’ve definitely had times where I was with my son and I was listening to one of my podcasts that suddenly went somewhere not suitable for young ears!) You can consider using a specialized kids-only podcasting app to be sure everything’s appropriate.

How to Listen

You could use Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Spotify, or whatever app you prefer. Since we always listen in the car using my iPhone, I use Apple Podcasts for all of the podcasts my son listens to. However, if you want your child to be able to manage their own podcast listening on their own device, you might choose a kid-only app such as:

  • Kids Listen. iOs app: or listen online at https://app.kidslisten.org/search. On the app, you can choose from these categories: Seasonal Sweeps (collections of episodes on a seasonal theme), Brand New, Dive into the World of Books, Curl up with a Story, Jump Into a [Serial] Adventure, Explore your Curiosity (mostly science shows), Meet Cool People (Interviews), Launch Your Imagination, or my favorite “Starter Episodes” where several podcasts suggest the episode they think is best for you to listen first. You can also create a “stash” of episodes you’ve downloaded to listen to. They have 30+ member podcasts, including several of those listed below. Curated by a grassroots organization of podcasters, parents, teachers, and listening advocates. It is free to download, and you get the most recent episodes for free. There’s a monthly subscription fee for those who want access to archives of older episodes.
  • Leela Kids. iOS and Android. Free. You select kids age (3-5, 5-8, 8-12, 12-15) and interest (e.g. stories, music, animals, space, ocean, dinosaurs, math, science, religion, language learning, “curious”) then browse through options. For example, I searched for science for age 5 -8 and got episodes from Wow in the World, Tumble, Fun Kids Science Weekly, Sid the Science Kid, Brains On, Surgery ABCs, and Show about Science. (There were 147 episodes in the category, which is a little overwhelming to scroll through, but certainly plenty of content!) You can also subscribe to and download favorite shows. The Free app includes visual ads in the app and allows up to 3 downloads, up to 3 items in playlist, and up to 3 subscribed shows. The paid premium subscription has no ads and unlimited downloads, items, and shows.
  • Pinna Children’s Audio Stories. iOS. $7.99 per month. Age 4 – 12. Audio stories, podcasts, and audio games categorized by age, genre, listening setting (travel, family time, bedtime), and more. Includes exclusive content. To search audio content by age, choose your kid’s age range from the top menu bar (4-5, 6-8, or 9-12). To choose by content type, scroll down to view selections: Featured, Pinna Originals, Activities, Popular, Audiobooks, or Genres. Genres include classics, adventure, animals, fairy tales, science, and more.

What to Listen To

Story Podcasts

Stories Podcast. Writer Daniel Hinds and narrator Amanda Weldin tell lovely, engaging stories, often with catchy little songs included. Some are original, many are based on classic fairy tales from around the world. We love listening to these on the way to school. Can range from 10 – 12 minutes, or there are some that are told over the course of multiple episodes, but we haven’t tried these yet. Best for ages 5 and up.

Sparkle Stories. Original audio stories. Some fairy tales, some cultural tales. My favorite stories are the ones featuring two kids named Martin and Sylvia. Only a few episodes are available broadly, but if you like them, you can access 875 (!) Sparkle stories on their app. OK for age 4 and up, best 6 – 8.

Story Pirates. Kids write short silly stories, and then adult actors and comedians build them into full stories and act them out, sketch comedy or musical theater style. Silly and wacky. Appeals to kids 4 and up.

Here’s some podcasts that we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve seen many recommendations for.

Little Stories for Tiny People. Around 10 minutes. Mostly whimsical tales about animals. For toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime or anytime.

Peace Out Calming stories that teach mindfulness and meditation and help children calm down at the end of the day. Episodes include breathing exercises and visualizations on feelings like jealousy, anxiety and fear. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Story Time. 10 – 15 minute original bedtime stories, told in a soothing British accent by host Rob Griffiths. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Circle Round. (NPR) Story-telling for age 3 – 10. 10 – 20 minute episodes of carefully-selected folktales from around the world. Topics such as inclusivity, kindness, persistence and generosity.

If you like stories, be sure to also check out my posts on Books Toddlers Love and Books About Inventors.

Science Podcasts

Tumble – A Science Podcast for Kids. They tell stories about science discoveries with the help of scientists. They both address interesting topics and try to get kids excited about science by interviewing scientists who share their passions. 8 – 15 minutes. Age 6 – 12

Brains On. Episodes are 25 – 35 minutes long. Each week a different kid joins host Molly Bloom and they interview scientists. Answers questions from kid listeners using science and history. Listeners also submit “mystery sounds” which are played early in the episode and described late in the episode. Age 6 – 12.

Wow in the World. (NPR) Science education show on the latest STEM news by Guy Raz from NPR and Mindy Thomas. Professionally produced, so great soundscapes. They have a schtick where Mindy suggests wild and crazy ideas and Guy is the voice of reason – I find it tiresome, but my son loves it. And the science content is excellent.

But Why. 18 – 45 minute episodes. Each episode takes on several questions submitted by kids, tied to a single theme, and answers them with the help of experts. (We haven’t tried it yet, but reviews say it’s good for kids who aren’t ready for Brains On.)

If you like science and are looking for fun science experiments and engineering projects to try with your child, check out my other site, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

Other Educational

The Past and the Curious. Comedic actors perform little-known stories from history, aiming to make them inspiring, amazing, and relevant to everyone. Ends with a quiz segment. Professional music scores and original songs.

Dream Big. 15 – 20 minutes. 8 year old host and her mom interview celebrities and award winning experts. Inspires kids to pursue their passions and make their dream a reality.

Silly Podcasts

This Podcast Has Fleas. (NPR) Waffles, a dog, starts a podcast and so does her rival Jones, a cat. There’s also Benny the Gerbil and Mr. Glub the Goldfish. There’s only 6 – 8 episodes. We listened when my son was 6 and he LOVED them and wanted to listen over and over again to each. (And today at age 8, when I mentioned this podcast, he wanted to listen to them again.)

What If World. Listeners call in with questions, which Eric O’Keefe writes original stories in response to. Describes in imaginative detail answers to questions like “What if Elephants Were Alive?” We listened to the “What If I Turned into a Hamburger” episode and enjoyed it.

The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd. We’re looking forward to trying this one, where Dr. Floyd tries to fend off his evil nemesis while learning about history, geography and science. Old time radio in style.

Music Podcasts

I haven’t tested any of these, but here’s what many sites recommend:

Ear Snacks. Songs and discussions with kids and experts. Best for preschool to early elementary.

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. “Indie music for indie kids.” Music aimed at kids (Moona Luna, Ella Jenkins, Lunch Money, Caspar Babypants, and They Might Be Giants) and kid-friendly tracks from The Ramones, Mike Doughty, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Pizzicato Five, Fishbone, and more.

OWTK’s Kids Music Monthly. Out with the Kids playlist, including the Not-It’s, Recess Monkey, Dan Zanes, Alphabet Rockers and More.

Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl – 2 full hours of kid’s music that’s smart, funny, and interesting.

More Recommendations

Podcasts 101

Logos from recommended podcasts

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like radio on demand. So, unlike the days when you had to turn on your radio at noon on Sunday to hear your favorite show, you can now listen anytime anywhere. In the car or on the bus, folding laundry or packing lunches, on long walks or while working out. When internet is available and when it’s not.

What are podcasts about?

Everything. Sports, news, psychology, pop culture, trivia, history, music, movies, science, fashion, religion, wellness, economics – if people like to talk about it, there’s a podcast about it. Some feature a host doing a monologue on a topic of interest to them. (For example, I cover Pregnancy and Birth on my Transition to Parenthood Podcast.) Some are 2 – 4 hosts discussing a topic – like a movie reviews podcast. Some feature a host interviewing experts in the field. Many may feel similar to talk radio or TV talk shows. There are stand-up comedy podcasts. There are also lots of story-telling podcasts or radio theatre podcasts, where a story might be told in a single episode, or might be serialized over many episodes for many years.

How do podcasts work?

Podcasters upload recordings to the internet, and you can use a variety of apps to access them. You can stream content live over an internet connection (on your desktop computer at home, on your laptop WiFi at a coffee shop, or using the cellular data on your phone) or you can download to your phone or other mobile device so you can listen any time without needing internet access.

What does it cost to listen?

Most podcasts are free. Many podcasters get no financial compensation for their work, some use a system like Patreon to collect donations from listeners, and some have commercial sponsors, so they’ll run 30 second to two minute “ads” for their sponsors. For many podcasts, this ad consists of the host riffing about their sponsor’s product, saying whatever random thoughts come to mind each week. They can be entertaining – but, when the “ad” comes on one of my weekly podcasts, I just tap the “fast forward 30 seconds” button 4 times to skip it. (Sorry to Casper Mattress, Hello Fresh, and Harry’s Razors – I do appreciate your sponsorship of podcasts I listen to, I promise!)

Who makes podcasts?

Podcasts range hugely. There are some slick professional productions by major media corporations, but there’s plenty that are recorded around someone’s kitchen table. I’ve heard podcasters get interrupted by police sirens going by, crying kids, cats knocking their coffee off the table and more. Some podcasts are made by some top experts in their field. But the majority are made by amateurs who have day jobs but podcast about their passions. There is a wide range of quality – sometimes I have sought out “expert advice” in an area I knew little about, and then discovered that I knew more than the person making the podcast! (When we were prepping for a trip to Disneyland, I checked out lots of podcasts for tips and trivia, and wow, there’s a broad range of skill and knowledge amongst Disney podcasters.)

One thing that makes podcasts different than, for example, a weekly show on NPR, is that the podcasters may let their personalities shine through more and share more of their personal experiences and opinions than they would on a radio show. I have some podcasts I’ve listened to every week for years, and know their in-jokes (like why Devindra on /Filmcast can finally understand Interstellar) and know when they got a new dog (like Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour and Sam Sanders from NPR Politics and It’s Been a Minute.) Sitting down and listening to the podcasts can feel a little like dropping in on old friends.

Where / How do I listen?

There are a few podcasts that are only available on one platform – you have to go to their website or their app to listen. But the majority are available on lots of different platforms. If you have an iOS device, Apple podcasts is the default option, and it works well. (Though some recommend Pocket Casts when you’re ready for more options.) For Android, there are multiple options. The most common recommendations are: Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and BeyondPod. Plus NPR One for all things NPR. More recommendations.

On each of these apps, you can search for shows, get recommendations, and read reviews. You can choose to listen to just a single episode of a podcast, or you can subscribe to your favorite shows so you’ll get notified when there’s a new episode (or you can set it to download automatically every time a new episode is released.)

What should I listen to?

There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2014, Slate wrote about The Top 25 Podcast Episodes of All Time. Time Magazine offered their recommendations on 50 Best Podcasts (2017), the Guardian’s 50 Podcasts You Need to Hear (2016), and here’s Esquire’s 20 Best Podcasts of 2017. NPR has a “podcast concierge” at earbud.fm – they crowd-sourced recommendations from over 6000 people, and pared the options down to 228 episodes (including some NPR shows and many that aren’t).

I’ll just share a few examples from what I listen to, but this is only a snapshot of the options available and may tell you as much about my own personal quirks as it does about the world of podcasting.

  • Round table discussions of pop culture topics (typically the same hosts each week)
    • Pop Culture Happy Hour. An NPR podcast where the hosts discuss current movies, TV, books, music, and more.
    • /Filmcast. Each week, they discuss “What We’ve Been Watching” (on TV and movies) and review one movie in depth. I’ve been listening weekly for years, and when I hear the theme song start playing, it just makes me happy! Each summer they have the Summer Movie Wager where they bet on what will be the top grossing movie of the summer, and you can play along. I was probably irrationally pleased at the fact that for most of the summer I was beating all the hosts.
    • Still Processing was great. Till they stopped releasing podcasts in August with no warning. It featured two African-American culture writers for the New York Times. Hopefully they’ll return.
    • I’m currently binging This Is Us from NBC, and I’m really enjoying also binging on two related podcasts: This is Us with Kei & Clyde, and This is Us Too, which both just feature a married couple chatting about one of their favorite shows. (I find the Afterbuzz TV on This is Us a little annoying, and actively disliked the one episode of This is Us Podcast that I tried. Podcasts are diverse and you are certain to find some that click with you and others that don’t.)
  • Interview-based shows: the host covers a different topic each week, interviewing experts in that field
    • Imaginary Worlds. The host, Eric Molinsky, talks and interviews people about science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and gaming – imaginary worlds and why we choose to suspend our disbelief. Eric has a great voice, a respectful interviewing style, and a genuine curiosity that really gets me engaged.
    • Hidden Brain from NPR. Host Shankar Vedantam uses science and story-telling to link neurobiology with economics, sociology and more. It reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior.
    • Broadway Backstory. A documentary style podcast exploring how a show goes from an idea to a full production.
    • 99% Invisible. Host Roman Mars (with one of the best voices in radio) explores the power of design and architecture. He takes on a topic that you may not even notice when it is working well and tells a compelling story about why it works the way it does.
    • The TED Radio Hour. Guy Raz explores the emotions, insights, and discoveries that make us human. The TED Radio Hour is a narrative journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create
  • NPR Politics: In-depth stories and discussion on the politics of the day from NPR’s top political reporters. I binged this from September 2016 – September 2017, then couldn’t bear to listen anymore. (But not because I don’t love the hosts or the podcast!)
  • Story-telling
    • Serial. This was a phenomenon when it launched in 2014. A true crime podcast, told as a serialized drama.  I have only listened to the first season, the story of Adnan and the murder of Hae Min Lee. The week long wait between episodes was unbearable. So compelling!!
    • The Moth. True stories, told live by those who experienced them. Recognized storytellers, first timers, and voices from communities whose stories often go heard. Range from hilarious to heart-breaking, often within the course of one story.
    • Vinyl Cafe. The Vinyl Cafe is an hour long show from the CBC that includes music (focusing on Canadian musicians), verbal essays about the host’s travels through Canada, stories from listeners and stories about a fictional family – the Dave and Morley stories. Sweet, delightful little stories that can have you laughing so hard you cry. (They’re kid appropriate too!) It broke my heart when the host Stuart McLean died in 2017. Right now on iTunes, they only have the Holiday Special. (Hopefully the rest re-appears someday.) But go, listen to it now. And then buy his CD’s of more stories.
  • Trivia podcasts. This summer, my daughter and I were playing pub trivia every Tuesday night (shout-out to Geeks Who Drink at Otter Bar in Seattle), so I binged on lots of trivia podcasts. My favorite by far was PodQuiz. Host James Carter is just so reliable. Each week there are 20 quality questions, and they always follow the same pattern, which is just strangely reassuring in an unpredictable world. He always starts with a music round, then questions on the theme of the week, then audio clips, then a general knowledge round. Then he plays a song (I skip over these, but that’s just me…) and then the answers. And the same sound effects every week and always ending with “Bye now.” I also really like Good Job Brain (and so does my 8 year old son). It’s a fun mixture of quizzes and also background knowledge on trivia topics which will build your skill for future trivia events.
  • Podcasts for Kids: I have an 8 year old, so we also spend plenty of car rides listening to science podcasts (Brains On, Wow in the World) and story podcasts (Sparkle Stories, Story Pirates, and Stories Podcasts). Read all about Podcasts for Kids and get all my recommendations in this separate post.

What are your favorite podcasts that I should check out?

47 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (or Their Heads Will Explode)


explode

There’s an article by Parents Magazine  that I often see shared on the internet. It’s titled “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids.” But the article is not about obviously harmful phrases like “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “I wish you’d never been born.” Instead, they’re cautioning about saying “Great job.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Let me help.” “Be careful.” “You’re OK.”

Huh?? You may wonder what is so awful about these words.

When you read their article, it’s got lots of really good content, and is well worth a read. But a better title would be “Translating Common Parenting Sayings into More Positive Statements Which Will Help Your Kids Develop Into the Emotionally and Physically Healthy, Upstanding Citizens You Hope They Will Become.”

But, Parenting magazine knows the rules of modern media. When you want people to read a title on Facebook and click through to read the article, it helps to include a number in the title (“5 reasons chocolate is healthier than kale”) and it helps if they can convince readers that if they don’t read the article something terrible will happen to them or their children. (“Follow our screen time tips or your child will be brain damaged for life.”) And it’s not just Parenting magazine – many other media outlets have used this same headline with success. At the bottom of this post, I list just the first page of search results for “things never to say to your kids.”

But, when parents read these headlines, how does it make us feel? It raises anxiety. It creates stress around the sense of “I have to do everything right as a parent, or my child will end up screwed up.” It makes us feel guilty about all the times we’ve “done it wrong.”

So, let’s first reality check these articles:

  1. At some point, all parents say mean things to their kids. It’s not just you! Just yesterday I said some things I’m sure are on lists of “things never to say to your kids.” We all have bad days, and we get angry, because we’re human. (Check out my series on parental anger – how to manage it and how to heal from it.)
  2. Luckily, kids are remarkably resilient. (To learn more about resiliency and how to help your kids build it, read this article by Jan Faull on the PEPS website.) If you have a positive, loving relationship with your child overall, a few harmful words will not damage that permanently.
  3. Almost all the things on all these lists of “things never to say” aren’t really that dreadful. I promise you that if you say good job to your child, they won’t be permanently damaged!!  However, there are many more things you might say instead, or in addition to, good job. Having an awareness of alternatives just helps broaden your list of options for how to connect with and guide your child.

So, I read through all those articles on things never to say. And I’ve gathered all those phrases below. But I am NOT saying “Never say these things.” Frankly, for most of these phrases, it would be totally fine if you say them from time to time. But, they don’t want to be the only message your child hears from you. For each one, I’ll then share some of the negative or non-helpful ways the phrase could be heard by a child. Then I’ll offer other options for alternatives you can try out, and gives resources for where you can learn more.

Unadulterated praise: Great job / Good girl / That’s a beautiful picture. You did that just right. What a perfect building you built! You’re the best ____ in the whole world!

  • How your child might hear this: Could hear judgment – there’s only one right way to do things. Could feel like empty praise if you say it no matter what they do, even it it’s easy. Could imply they’ve reached their limit and you don’t think they can do any better. They may not trust you after they discover they’re not the best ____ in the whole world.
  • Alternatives:  Only praise things that took effort. Focus on the process and HOW they did it and what they learned rather than on the product. Give specific detailed feedback about what’s good, and what could be even better. Read about questions to ask to extend their learning. Read more about effective praise.

You make me feels…. I’m proud of you. I love it when you…. It would make me happy / mad if you… I’m ashamed when you…. I’ll never forgive you

  • How your child might hear this: Your love is conditional on their accomplishments. Also implies that your emotional well-being is dependent on their behavior.
  • Alternatives: Let your child know that you will always love them, no matter what. (This doesn’t mean that all behavior is always OK – it’s not and you do need to set limits. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t have high expectations for them. You do want them to work hard and be good people. But your happiness should not depend on that. 

Practice makes perfect. 

  • How your child might hear this: Anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.
  • Alternatives: “Practice and you will improve.” “Making mistakes helps us get better.” “If you aren’t making any mistakes, this is too easy for you and maybe you’re ready for more challenge.” Read more about Willingness to Fail is the Inventor’s Key to Success

 

Labeling:  You’re so [shy, smart, clumsy, pretty]. You’re the [strong, fast, silly, wild] one. You always… You’ll never… [lose, win, do anything wrong / right]. You’re worthless / a loser. Girls don’t do that / Boys don’t like..

  • Labeling your child limits them. If you label them based on a problem behavior, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they may continue to be that way. If you label them by a “talent” that they have, that creates a lot of pressure on them to retain that talent. They may worry about losing your love / their identity if they don’t succeed in that area.
  • Alternatives: You do want to understand your child’s temperament, gender influences, and learning style and help support them in using their strengths to build confidence and work around the things that come harder to them. But don’t “label” kids or think they’ll never change. Praise effort, not talent. Let them know that everyone can get better at anything if they work at it. Learn more about the growth-based mindset.

Shaming: “You’re just like [someone your child knows you don’t like]. Why can’t you be more like… Stop acting like a baby. You’re so [negative adjective]. Big boys don’t… Good girls don’t…

  • What they might hear: These statements are intended to shame a child. “A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves.”
  • Alternatives: Let your child become the very best them they can become without worrying whether they are just like someone else. If you disapprove of a child’s behavior, tell them how to change the behavior. Try not to attack their identity or their sense of being worthy of your love.

What’s wrong with you?

  • Implies that the problem is with them, instead of with the situation.
  • Alternatives:  What’s wrong?” “What happened that upset you?”

Let me do it:  Let me help you. Just let me do it for you. You’re doing it wrong, let me do it. You’re too slow, I’ll do it.

  • What they might hear: Implies that they’re not competent. If you rescue your child from every challenge, how will they ever learn to do anything on their own?
  • Alternatives: Allow them to be frustrated. When we’re struggling with something, we’re on the verge of learning something new. (If they’re miserable, that’s a different story….) Ask guiding questions – “what happens if…” Make gentle suggestions “Try…” If you’re really in a hurry say “I need to help you so we can get to preschool on time. Tomorrow you can try again when we have more time.”

Don’t cry. You’re OK. What a dumb thing to get upset about. Don’t worry, it will be fine. There’s no reason to be scared, just do it.

  • What they might hear: Their feelings are not important to you. They shouldn’t trust their own feelings, they should let other people tell them how to feel. Tells them not to trust their intuition and do things even if they seem risky. (This could get them into all sorts of trouble as teens.)
  • Alternatives: Validate emotions and pain first, then reassure. Once you’ve said “I hear that you’re scared / hurt / worriedthen you can address logical reasons why you believe that it will be OK in the end. More on emotion coaching.

Don’t talk to strangers

  • What they might hear: This blanket message can make your child fearful of everyone and also limit their ability to learn the social skills they’ll need as adults who very frequently have to talk to strangers!
  • Alternatives: Model appropriate ways to interact with appropriate strangers. Talk to them about how to tell the difference. Read more about how to help your kid judge whether to talk to strangers  and talk about tricky people.”

Be careful. Watch out!

  • What they could hear: Of course we use it when needed! But if over-used, can create a fearful child who thinks the world is a dangerous place. Also: Teacher Tom says: “An adult who commands, “Don’t slide down that banister!” might be keeping a child safe in that moment, but is… robbing him of a chance to think for himself, which makes him that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him what to do.”
  • Alternatives:Demonstrate / model how to be safe. Encourage them to look before leaping. Encourage them to tune into how they feel about something – if they’re nervous, there may be a good reason. When the risk is just a mild bump or bruise, let them test things. If they get that bruise, they’ll learn something important. Read more about teaching safety skills.

Promises you can’t keep: I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Don’t worry – you’ll always be safe. I promise – I’ll never die. I’ll always be here

  • What they might hear: Lies. And no tools for how to survive hardship.
  • Alternatives. “I’ll do my best to keep you safe. I’ll try to always be there for you, for as long as I live. Sometimes bad things will happen and I’ll try to help give you tools for coping with that.”

Please Go Aways: You’re in the way. I can’t get anything done with you around. Hurry up. You’re making us late. Shut up. I have better things to do than… Would you just leave me alone for 5 minutes?

  • What they might hear: So, I totally get that children are terribly inconvenient at times, and that they make everything harder, and that we all need breaks sometimes!! However, these sorts of statements create stress and anxiety and make the child wonder if he is loved.
  • Alternatives: Give positive, concrete suggestions for other positive, concrete things they could be doing in the moment. When you really need a break or need help, admit it and ask for it. That’s part of modelling self care. “Mama is really sick today. I need your help. Can you sit and play quietly for just a few minutes?”

If/Then: If …. then…..  If you do [this bad thing], then you’ll get [this punishment].

  • What they might hear: “I’m expecting bad behavior and am looking forward to punishing you.”
  • Alternative: When … then….  “When you do [good thing that I’m expecting you to do], then we’ll get to do [this fun thing] together.” Learn more about punishment and reward.

Wait till your father gets home.

  • What they might hear: you don’t have enough power to enforce consequences.
  • Alternatives: Consequences should be immediate, logical, and enforced by the parent who encountered the misbehavior.

I told you so: that’s what you get for not listening

  • What they might hear: Feels a little vindictive, like you were hoping something bad would happen to them.
  • Alternative: “Well, that’s not what you were hoping would happen is it? What could you do differently in the future so you don’t have this problem again?”

Because I said so

    • What they might hear: It’s authoritarian. Implies that whoever makes the rules can make arbitrary judgments on a whim, and they have no control over that.
    • Alternative: “I’m your parent, and it’s my job to keep you safe and help you grow up to be a good person and keep things running well around the house. Sometimes I have to enforce rules you don’t like. It feels unfair to you, but I will continue to do what I think is best.”

Telling them how to do things they know how to do: Hang your coat up. Wash your hands.

  • What they could hear: You think they’re now smart or competent. Also implies they only need to do those things when you tell them to.
  • Alternatives: Ask them that to do: “Where does your coat go? What do you do before we eat? I bet you know what you need to do next.”

Don’t ______. Don’t throw that / spill that / hit the dog / slam the door.

  • What they might hear: If you just tell them  NOT to do, they first have to stop their impulse to do it (which is hard for a young child) and then figure out something to do instead (which is even harder.) Also, if they already know not to do that thing, you don’t want to pay too much attention to it, as attention reinforces behavior.
  • Alternative: Tell them what TO DO. “Carefully set that down. Move your milk so it doesn’t spill. Pet the dog softly. Close the door gently.”

You did that wrong. Why do you mess things up?

  • What they could hear: Mistakes are bad. Don’t try anything you’re not sure you can do well.
  • Alternative: “Oops, that didn’t work. What could you do differently?” “Making mistakes helps us get better.”

Learn more:

Here are lots more articles on these ideas.

Printable handout:

Would you like to print out a handout of this info for yourself or to share with friends or students or clients? Click here for: Words Matter 2. Includes a worksheet where you can practice re-writing sentences to be more effective.