When/Then and If/Then

Two useful discipline tools for parents are the “when / then” and the “if / then” statements.

When / Then

This statement basically says “when you do [this positive behavior], then you will get [this positive social reward].”

The statement first tells your child what you want them to do, then it implies that you are totally expecting your child to do this positive thing, now that you’ve explained to them what’s expected. And in return for doing it, they can expect to continue to have your loving, positive attention.

Some examples:

  • “When you’ve brushed your teeth and gone potty, then we get to read a bedtime story.”
  • “When you finish cleaning up your Legos, then we can play a game.”
  • “When you’re ready for school on time, then you can work on a drawing.”
  • “When you’re sitting down in your chair, then I will give you your dessert.”
  • “When you’re sitting in your car seat, then I will tell you a joke.”

If / Then

“If you do [this negative behavior], then you will get [this consequence.]”

This statement assumes they are likely to do something wrong, and tells them that if they do, they will experience a negative consequence.

You don’t want to start here: First, assume the best of your child! Giving a “when / then” first gives them the best chance at making a positive choice and being rewarded for that.

If the when / then didn’t work, that’s when we turn to if / then.

  • “If you can’t finish getting ready for bed in the next five minutes, then you’ll have to go straight to bed without a bedtime story.”
  • “If you don’t put your Legos away in the next five minutes, then I will have to put them away, and you won’t be able to play with them tomorrow.”
  • “If you’re not ready for school on time, then you won’t be able to draw today.”
  • “If you don’t sit down now, then you won’t be able to have dessert tonight.”
  • “If you don’t sit in your car seat by yourself, then I will have to put you there and buckle you in. Then I can’t tell you the joke I have saved up for today.”

Think about your tone when presenting these statements. These don’t need to come off as angry threats that sound like “If you don’t cut that out, you’re going to be in big trouble with me!!” They can just be matter of fact statements about the natural or logical consequences of their actions. You may even let your tone know that you’re a little disappointed that you won’t be able to read the bedtime story or tell them the joke – that encourages them to try harder to win back that positive social reward from you.

Learn about lots of other tools for your Discipline Toolbox here.


Your Discipline Toolbox

There are lots of different discipline techniques you can use to guide your children toward good behavior. Learning about them is like stocking your toolbox for home maintenance. If your house has a good solid foundation, and you perform regular, routine maintenance, then you may not need to pull out your toolbox very often. But we all have those little repair jobs to do from time to time that require a basic, all-purpose tool, and some days we have really big issues that we need to pull out specialized power tools to address, and sometimes we even need to call in a professional to help. This post will orient you to all the tools in your toolbox, and help you figure out how to use the right tool for the right job, in the right way.

[Note: This post is intended as an overview… there are LOTS of links in this post that will take you to other articles I’ve written with more details on these techniques.]

What is Discipline?

Discipline means guidance. It means good modeling, setting clear expectations for how we would like our children to behave, not assuming that they know how, and setting clear limits about things they cannot do. And, it means that when they misbehave, we let them know that the behavior was not OK, but we do still love them, and we will tell them how to be better in the future. This style of discipline not only guides behavior, it also builds trust and respect between parent and child.

Building a Strong Foundation

All discipline is grounded in a positive relationship. Here’s some ways to build that foundation:

  • Play together—often!
  • Have snuggle time and special time and let them know that you love them.
  • Talk and listen to them—build a “Love Map” of what’s important to them.
  • Validate their emotions—their feelings are always OK. (Some behaviors are not.)
  • Be consistent and trustworthy.
  • Ask for respect from them and treat them with respect.
  • Teach how to be good: talk about values; model, coach, and praise good behavior.

Do Routine Maintenance

  • Take care of yourself. Get the support you need in order to have enough energy to be a calm, thoughtful parent.
  • Whenever possible, ensure your child is well fed and well rested.
  • Avoid overstimulation (it leads to meltdowns).
  • Spend time in kid-friendly environments where it’s easy for them to succeed.
  • Set expectations: warn of transitions, and explain what the plans are.
  • Create predictable routines & clear rules so they know what’s expected of them. Set appropriate limits on behavior. (Be sure that your expectations are developmentally appropriate. Don’t ask more of them than they are capable of.)

To Improve Behavior

When there’s not really bad behavior, but there are places where if your child was behaving better, your family life would be smoother and happier, here’s how  to move things in a positive direction:

  • Use the Attention Principle: pay attention to positive behavior you want to see more of.
  • Use When / Then. “When you do [positive behavior], then you get [something positive.]”
  • Create a Reward System. (Read more about praise and reward here.)
  • Create a Routine to address any chronic challenge in daily family life.
  • Clarify rules—your child may do something that they didn’t realize was wrong. You can explain what the problem is and how to avoid it in the future.

To Correct Minor Misbehavior

(Note: If your child is hurting someone or something, skip to the next level.)

These tools are meant to correct problematic behavior. As parents, a big part of our job is to help our children learn to be good people, as this helps them succeed in school, work, and in all of life. To do that, we need to set clear limits on what’s OK and what’s not OK. (Learn here about the authoritative parenting style, which balances high expectations for our children with high responsiveness to them as individuals.)

To Correct Major Misbehavior

These are your power tools. You’re not going to pull them out of the toolbox every day, but they’re there when you need them.

  • Use Time Out from Positive Attention. This gives them (and you) an opportunity to calm down.
    • Note: If your child is in the midst of a major meltdown, this is not a time to try to reason with them… they’re in their “downstairs brain”. (Learn what I mean here.)
  • Impose a Logical Consequence—make sure the “punishment fits the crime.” (Read about the CDC’s take on consequences here.)
  • Seek peer advice, parent education, or professional support as needed.

You may notice that I haven’t talked about one discipline tool: Physical Discipline. Many parents discover that, in the short term, spanking can be an effective way to get a child to stop doing something bad. But, in the long term, it can damage the relationship, cause fear and anxiety in the child, and teach the child that anger and violence are the ways to get things done. It also doesn’t teach them much about why the behavior is bad – they may avoid doing it when you’re around so they won’t get hit, but there’s no reason for them to avoid it when you’re not there. Read more on physical punishment and spanking here.

Sometimes handling our child’s misbehavior can make us really angry. Look here for tips on “What if you’re angry at your child?“.

Move On

When misbehavior stops, or after a time out or a consequence is complete, then re-engage with your child, providing positive attention and praise for good behavior.

It’s especially important to do this if you got angry at your child. Read more about Resolution.

Self Discipline

Our goal for discipline, in the long-run, is to make ourselves obsolete. Our children need to learn to
discipline themselves. We want to raise adults who are capable of controlling their impulsive behavior, capable of working hard for a delayed reward (or even no reward other than their satisfaction with a job well done), and who have such a strong internal sense of right and wrong that it guides their every action, and who do what’s right simply because they can’t imagine behaving differently. Read more on self-discipline and how to begin to teach it.


If you’d like a free, printable handout that summarizes all this information, just click here for the Discipline Toolbox in color or Discipline Toolbox,  Black and White.

Ignoring Annoying Behavior

The second step on my discipline flow chart is to “pick your battles.” Ask yourself: Is their behavior really a big problem that needs serious consequences? Or is it just annoying? If it’s just annoying, just ignore it.

Let’s start with a few examples:

  • If you’re trying to get work done, and your child keeps coming over and whining about a snack, this is certainly annoying. But asking for food isn’t a discipline problem. You could just ignore the child until they ask politely, or you could give the child a hint: “it’s hard for me to understand you when you’re whining. If you used polite words and a nice voice,  I could hear you better.” Ignore them as long as they’re whining. As soon as you hear the polite request, respond to it.
  • If you’ve asked your child to pick up their toys, and they are doing so… but they’re stomping around and making faces while they do it, ignore the bad behavior, and turn your attention to what they’re doing well: “Thanks for getting all the Legos back in the tub.”
  • If your kids are squabbling in the backseat, instead of scolding for that behavior, just say “hey, I downloaded a great science podcast you’ll really like. When you’re ready to listen, I’ll turn it on.” Drive on, ignoring the bickering till they settle down, then turn on the podcast.

Your goal is to ignore the annoying behavior. As soon as you see positive behavior, focus on that. This ignoring method is a corollary to the attention principle. The more attention a child gets for a behavior, the more they will repeat it. So, play plenty of attention to positive behaviors. Ignore the ones you don’t want to reinforce. (Of course, if the bad behavior is significant, you’ll set limits and consequences… Ignoring is mostly for the things that are annoying little things, not the big stuff.)

All discipline is grounded in relationship.This technique does not work in a relationship where the child is often ignored or dismissed. But in a warm relationship where they regularly get attention for positive behavior, ignoring can be effective. It’s important to be clear that this ignoring is not intended as a rejection of your child, just of their current behavior, so it takes place in the context of a loving relationship.

Also, if your child is having strong feelings, don’t dismiss the emotions. Validate the emotions and turn attention toward the positive things they are doing to cope with them, but ignore annoying behaviors that result. For example, my son was begging for more screen time, and I said “I know you’re really sad about not being able to play more.” And “I see you’re looking through your books for something else to do.” But I didn’t acknowledge the repeated begging.

You can also teach your children to use their “ignoring muscles.” If their sibling or classmate is annoying them, they can ignore the other child. If they respond, the annoying behavior continues. If they don’t respond, the other child may give up.

When ignoring, you really want to be bland and poker faced and show no outward sign of noticing or caring about the bad behavior.  Don’t roll your eyes or sigh. Just think: If your daughter puts her fingers in her ears, turns her back and says “I’m ignoring you” and then turns back to make sure your son has noticed he’s being “ignored”, then he’s not really being ignored is he? He’s actually got all of her attention right now. It’s better to walk away and do something else as blandly as possible.

Test this method out, and comment to let me know what you think!

This is one of the many tools taught by the Incredible Years parenting program – check out their book for all the details!

Parenting as Justice Work

A few days ago, my six-year-old had been playing a video game, and told me the characters said they wanted to make the world a better place. Then my son said “It seems like that’s what everyone is trying to do – everyone wants to make the world a better place.”

He said this a few days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. And I thought to myself “But the challenge is that some people’s view of what would be ‘better’ is very different from other people’s views.”

As we’ve seen this week, some people’s view of a better America is one where everyone is of European descent and where all others have “gone back to where they came from” or have “learned their place.” It’s a view based on hate / prejudice, or driven by fear, or a desire to protect those who are “like me” from those who are different.

My view is of a more just and equitable society, filled with diverse traditions and perspectives, where all members of the society have equal rights and equal protections. My view acknowledges that we are a long ways from that right now, as the marginalized members of our society who may most need the protections are instead the least likely to be well served by our institutions and policies.

What do I, as an individual, do to help work toward my view of a better world? How do I, as a parent, talk to my child about my vision of a better world? What do I, as a parent educator, say to the parents in my classes to encourage them to articulate their own view of a better world and to talk to their children about that? How do I, as a member of a faith community and other communities, work together with others to speak aloud our vision for a better world, knowing that the more voices are united, the more powerful the message is?

Talk about (and embrace) differences

I’ve written three posts in the past, which articulate many thoughts on these topics: Talking to Toddlers About Race; Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity;  Look Mom! That lady only has one leg! All of these address the fact that children notice differences! (As early as six months, children can classify faces by race and by gender. Source.) They also notice how we respond to them. So, when your preschooler shouts out “Look! That kid has a weird red spot on their cheek!” or “Is that a man or a woman?” or “Why is she wearing that weird robe that covers her all up?” or whatever… think about how to respond. If you “shushhhh” your child, you teach them that the thing they have observed is a shameful thing we don’t talk about in public. If you try to ignore the difference or say “but we’re all the same!” you confuse your child and miss a teaching opportunity.

Here’s another perspective:

“[Being “colorblind”] is not realistic. I’m an African-American woman. … When I walk into a room and I am the only black woman, it’s obvious. There’s no benefit in pretending. …  however, [we don’t] need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced the fact that God has created us as equals, there’s no need or reason for that awkwardness. If someone who is culturally or ethnically different from you comes around, it is unrealistic, unhelpful and possibly unloving to pretend that you don’t notice. So, when your child says, “Mommy why is that woman wearing a dot on her forehead?” Instead of asking them to be quiet out of embarrassment, the colorsmart approach is to take that question as an opportunity to positively explain her different, unique culture. (source)

Here’s another thought:

“I’m going to teach my daughter the truth about race — that our brains are wired to notice looks first. … It’s okay to notice skin color. What’s not okay is to pretend color doesn’t exist. It’s the way you acknowledge color, and how you react, that makes you embrace race, hide from it, or run from it. … it’s [our] job to move beyond primal instinct in order to truly accept everyone — no matter what color or culture they may be. … Step out from behind the curtain of color-blindness, and embrace how not everyone is the same.”   (source)

Or, as one of my friends says to her five-year-old: “everyone’s different, and that’s awesome!”

And it’s not enough to say this with your words… your actions also matter. Children pick up and interpret subtle messages from their environment. So, if all the people you hang out with look and talk a lot like you, your child may interpret that they’re only supposed to hang around people who look and talk like them. (Source)

If we don’t talk about race , religion, abilities and other differences, then our child will come up with their own guesses and interpretations. It is better to talk about it openly so they know our views.

Talk about Inequities

As we talk about differences, and embrace differences, we may also naturally talk about equality – how in the United States, we are supposed to all have equal rights, equal protection, and equal responsibilities. I absolutely want to talk to my child about how things should be. But, I can’t leave it at that… I also have to talk about the fact that things in our country are not truly equal.

“If you tell your kid his entire life that all people, regardless of the color of their skin, are exactly the same, then when your white kid is a white grown up and he sees a disproportionate percentage of the people living in poverty have a different skin color than he does, he’s going to assume it’s because there’s something wrong with them. He will blame the people, not the flawed system. If we’re all the same, those people with brown skin can just work hard and be successful, right? …

By teaching your kids not to see color, you’re teaching them that the black men gunned down by white cops must have been criminals, they must’ve been bad guys, they must’ve deserved it.

By teaching your kids not to see color, you are teaching them that systemic racism does not exist… you are teaching them to be complicit in a culture of racism and fear.

Colorblind is not the answer. Skin color exists. Race exists. Racism exists. To ignore it and pretend it doesn’t is not just the wrong way, but is exacerbating the problem. Ignoring race, being colorblind, teaches kids that there’s nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss. White parents need to ENCOURAGE their kids to talk about race, ask questions, learn. Feed the discussion, not the ignorance.

Teach your kids to celebrate differences. Teach your kids that skin color IS important. Teach your kids that race exists, but bigotry shouldn’t. Teach them that our differences make us amazing. Don’t ignore, embrace.”  (Source)

Talk about Privilege

If I acknowledge that it is harder to be black, or Jewish, or gay in our society, I must also acknowledge that it is easier to be white, Christian, or straight. There is inherent privilege in these identities. “Privilege is the “up-side” of oppression and discrimination. It is about unearned advantage, which can also be described as exemption from discrimination.” Source

Privilege can be mis-interpreted.

“… privilege does not mean that their lives will be easy or that everything is “handed” to them. People tend to think of privilege in terms of super rich people who don’t have to work for anything. It’s hard to see that we are privileged when we are struggling to make ends meet. The fact is that privilege isn’t so much about what is handed to you, it’s about what isn’t even accessible to others. White privilege doesn’t mean that someone gives you a job for no reason, but it might mean that your resume is instantly taken more seriously because your name is John and not Jamal.” Source

I believe that I am a good person, and that I am smart, and that I work hard. So it is easy to believe that I have earned all the things I have in life. But I must also acknowledge that many things were easier for me to earn when I am white, 4th or 5th generation American, of Christian heritage, middle class, straight, cisgender, well-educated, and had a calm childhood with few things that could be considered adverse childhood experiences. (Read more about me and my identity here.)

What are some of the ways I’ve experienced privilege? In a classic essay on Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh lists some examples of the privileges I’ve experienced:

  • I can turn on the TV or open the paper, and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can go shopping… mostly assured I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these things to the bad morals, the poverty of the illiteracy of my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to speak to “the person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I need medical or legal help, my race will not work against me.

My kids will also experience these benefits.

“A white kid growing up in a middle-class family an hour outside Seattle like my kids can work hard and become anything they want to be. A black kid growing up in a poor family in Baltimore could work just as hard as my white kids and not end up in the same place. Do some of those kids “beat the odds” and become super successful? Absolutely. But the fact that there are “odds” to beat is exactly the point of white privilege.” Source

So, what can I do? I’m still going to encourage my kids to be good people and to work hard. When they succeed at something, I’ll still celebrate and tell them they earned it. But when they earn access to some option just because of their privileged status, I will also point that out to them. I’ll ask them to question whether everyone truly had equal access. I’ll ask them to notice when other people do not have the same access as they do, and to question why that is the case.

Use Your Privilege

“Privilege means that you owe a debt. You were born with [privilege]. You didn’t ask for it. And you didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming you for having it. You are lovely, human, and amazing. Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.”  Source

That might mean speaking up for a person who is being poorly treated at a business due to their marginalized status, or it might mean speaking at a town hall where your voice may be heard better than the voices of those who are often silenced, it might be standing up for someone who is being bullied, or walking alongside marginalized people as they rally for their rights.  There are lots of things we can do as individual adults, and as our kids see us taking action, they learn from our example what our values are.

We can also encourage our children to use their privileges. A mother of a black son (who will transition from “an adorable black boy to a strong black man”) writes:

“We talk to our son about safety issues. We talk to him about being respectful of police (and anyone in authority), about keeping his hands where they are visible, about not wearing his hood up over his face or sneaking through the neighbor’s backyard during hide-and-seek or when taking a shortcut home from school. … Some people are going to see him as a “thug” before they ever know his name, his story, his gifts and talents.” Source

I’ve got an adorable white boy, who’s likely to transition to a scrawny geeky white man. I don’t have to have these same conversations with him. But I can talk to him about racism (and other -isms) and help him understand how to use his privilege to protect others. As the mother of the black son writes:

“So white parents, please talk to your kids about racism. If they see my son being bullied or called racist names, they need to stand with him. They need to understand how threatening that is and not just something to be laughed off. If your child is with my child playing soccer at the park and the police drive by, tell your child to stay—just stay right there with my son. Be a witness. In that situation, be extra polite, extra respectful. Don’t run and don’t leave my son by himself. If they are with my son, this is not the time to try out any new risky behaviors. Whatever trouble they get into, he will likely not be judged by the same standard you are. Be understanding that he can’t make the same mistakes you can.

Be conscious of what media messages your kids are getting about race. Engage in tough conversations about what you’re hearing in the news. Don’t shy away from this just because you can. He can’t. We can’t. I have hope that when white parents start talking about these issues with our white kids, that’s when change starts.” Source

When do we start?

We start talking about differences as early as our kids start noticing them. That’s as young as 6 months for race and gender! They start to crystallize beliefs about group identities as by the time they reach preschool. (Source) We can help to shape their initial attitudes on all these things, but not if we don’t start talking about it till they’re 6 or 7 years old. That’s too late to start.

So, from very early on, do step 1: talk about (and embrace) differences.

The other steps are more sophisticated, and require a more advanced cognitive level to understand. As rough estimates: when your kids start talking about what’s fair and what’s unfair is a good time to start talking about equality and step 2 – talking about inequities. This would typically be around age 4 – 6. You can talk about recognizing and using privilege as they get into later elementary school, or before then if you note that they are starting to make assumptions about “____ got that because he deserved it and ____ didn’t get it because she’s not good enough” or any other judgments that imply a developing bias.

Resources for learning more:

To learn more about these topics, click on any of the links above to find lots of great articles.

Also check out resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center. For adults, Ten Ways to Fight Hate. For kids (and educators), the resources on Teaching Tolerance.


Look Mom! That lady only has one leg!

1 leg

I’m an amputee. I had cancer 30 years ago when I was a teenager and my right leg was amputated. It’s nothing new to me – just the way my body is. It is not a subtle handicap – but one you can see easily from 100 feet away. So every place I go where there are children, a child will point and exclaim. “Look, that lady only has one leg!!”

It is fine with me!! Really.

I also hear parents respond to their children. Helpful and positive responses include: “Yes, you’re right, she has one leg.” “Yes, you’ve noticed that she’s different from other people you know. But she’s hiking on the trail just like we are.” “What are those sticks? They’re crutches, they help her walk.” “Yes, she has one leg and uses crutches and you and I have two legs that we walk on.” “I don’t know why she only has one leg. It may have been an accident or she may have been born that way.” “I don’t know – why don’t you ask her.” (You might not use this in all situations, but if I’m smiling back at your child and saying “yep, you’re right” then that probably means I’m pretty approachable.) “Yes, there’s all kinds of people in the world, including some with one leg.” “That’s interesting, isn’t it. Let’s talk about it later.”

I’m sad when instead I hear “Shh… don’t say anything.” “That’s not nice.”

What you’ve just taught your child is that being handicapped is a bad thing. A shameful thing which we don’t talk about in public. You have implied that it is something we should all feel bad about and that it’s better not to think about it.

And you’ve also discouraged your child from being curious and making observations about the world around them.

Now, I get that things can sometimes be awkward. I am not sensitive about my handicap. But some people are, and might find it distressing to be “noticed” so loudly. I still think it’s appropriate for you to respond quietly to your child with some variant of the positive comments above. And then talk to them about it more at some other time.

Children notice differences. It’s part of what they need to do to learn about their world: Identify similarities and differences in the things they see around them. They are constantly constructing their own definitions of things, including all the ways in which people’s appearance can vary.

Whatever the “difference” is that your child is noticing, whether commenting on someone’s skin color, tattoos, clothing, weight, hair, developmental disabilities, or whatever, think about how to respond to it in a way that acknowledges the personhood of the person your child has commented on and encourages your child to still keep making observations and asking questions about their world.

Last week, my 5 year old said quite loudly “Wow. That man is really fat.” Would I have been happier if that had never happened… of course. Do I wish I could take it back? Yes, but what’s said is said, so how do we move forward from there?

I quietly said to him “Yes, people come in all shapes and sizes. It looks like he’s on his way into the library just like we are. Looks like you both love to read.” Later on, I had a conversation with my son about it. I explained that although we as a family do not believe that it is bad if someone is fat, other people in our society do. So, saying loudly that someone is fat might seem like an insult to them, and might hurt their feelings. I encouraged him to make observations like that more quietly in the future. Or ask me later about the people that we see.

I wrote a post a while back about race and how to talk to your child about race. Much of it is relevant to a discussion of other ways that people may differ from each other, and how we also help our children learn what they have in common with different people. You can find it here.

Financial Literacy


On Sunday, I was teaching a class to a group of 9 – 10 year olds. We were talking about the roles that need to be played by various family members to help the family life run smoothly. I happened to mention something about paying the bills so that the lights and the phone stay on. Multiple kids were shocked to realize that this is something their parents do that they were not even aware of.

It made me think of the changes in financial awareness over the generations. When I was a kid, actual paychecks came to the house, and I went with my parents to the bank to deposit them, and then I saw my parents at home at the kitchen table writing checks for the bills, and mailing them, or if they didn’t get it in the mail on time, then we would go to the utility company’s office to drop off the payment. When we went to the store, my parents sometimes paid by check, but more often we paid in cash. You could see how much things cost by how many bills got counted out and handed over. Mom often had a handful of coupons with her at the store, that I had helped her clip. Money was a physical object and our financial life had a visible presence in our house.

That’s very different from my five year old’s experience. Our paychecks are automatically deposited, many of our bills are auto-paid while we sleep. When we do financial record-keeping, our child just sees us sitting at the computer – for all he knows, we’re working, or sending emails to family members, or playing pinball – all things he knows we do on the computer. We go to the store rarely, as we order groceries online and have them delivered, and also order many of our consumer goods online and as far as he knows, they just magically appear at the house. When we do go to the store, I just pull out a card and there’s no clear indication to him whether I’m paying a lot or a little for what we buy (or where the money to buy something came from). He’s never seen me use a paper coupon or drive across town for a sale. (Rather than trying to save money on stuff I buy, I just try to buy less stuff… or I buy used.)

So, I’ve realized that just as parents need to think about literacy in terms of reading, and math literacy, and emotional literacy, it’s also worth thinking about financial literacy. It’s hugely important for their long-term success and stability, and could be considered part of their “college prep”:

While obtaining a college degree is associated with higher earnings, studies also show that people who earn more also tend to spend more. And if those college-educated high earners spend beyond their means, they’ll end up suffering the same [financial] problems as those who never graduated from high school. (source)

So, how do we build financial literacy? What are the money-world equivalents of teaching the ABC’s, then how to read a Dr. Seuss and then on up to literary critique in high school? This post is full of ideas of where to start teaching your child about money, and what to teach them. I will often share my personal decisions about how to handle this, but that’s not because I think it’s the one right way – it’s just so you have an example of how one family has made these decisions. You should do what is right for your family! I’ll also offer tips from other sources.

Physical Manipulables: When we’re building pre-literacy skills with children, we give them alphabet puzzles and magnetic letters to stick on the fridge. To build money literacy, it helps if they can handle actual physical money. As soon as they’re past the mouthing stage, they can be given coins to play with, to practice counting, and to use in pretend play. Once they’ve mastered simple counting of pennies, you can teach that ten pennies is the same thing as a dime. Equivalency is both a great money skill and a great math skill. Later in pretend play, you could charge a specific amount and have them make change.

Let them help you count real money for real purchases: When I go to McDonald’s, I know a drink will cost $1.10, so even before I go to the counter, I can have my child help me count out this much money. At the farmer’s market, I can see that the berries will cost $3, so he can help me count that out. At soccer, when we buy a bracelet for the bouncers(which we do often, so the staff knows us), I give my five year old cash, and he goes to the counter to buy it. Before he goes, I ask him if he need to wait for change or not.

You can also take your child grocery shopping, and encourage them to do price comparisons – “how much is this one per serving vs. this one? This is on sale… but, that doesn’t mean we should buy it. Let’s stick to our list and not do impulse purchases – sometimes those “sale items” end up being more expensive than what we would have otherwise bought.”

My middle child had done this with me so much through the years that she started doing most of our grocery store runs as her family chore when she was 16 and could drive. (Again, the bulk of our groceries get ordered online, but this was for all those last-minute  “hey, we’re out of milk” runs.)

Earning Money: Having their own money is an essential step for kids to start learning about money and about how to manage it. Some parents choose not to give an allowance, and only pay a child for work done. Here’s an example:

3 – 6 year old: Once a week is paid chore day. … A parent has a pile of money that they offer to pay for simple chores. For example, each washcloth folded is 1 cent, taking out the trash is 5 cents, sweeping the floor is a dime. The child is paid immediately for the job and then offered another job. Early Elementary: Each day as the child arrives home from school, they find an envelope with a quarter in it on the refrigerator. On the outside of the envelope there is a list of chores they must complete before 5pm in order to receive the quarter. If the chores are not done by 5pm, they must still do the chores; however, they will not receive the 25 cent bonus. (Source)

As they get older, they can take on odd jobs outside the house. (Check out Ways for Kids to Make Money – a collection of ideas.) When they reach legal working age, you can decide whether you require that they get a job, and if so, do you require that they share a portion of that income with the family. For some families this is a financial necessity. For others, it may be more of a lifestyle choice.

Allowance: Many families choose to give a weekly allowance, if their family finances allow for that.

How much? Some people say $1 per year old. Some may do 25 cents per year old. How much is appropriate for your family depends on your finances, but also on how your child will use it – what you buy for them, versus what they buy for themselves.

What do they use allowance for? For child #3, we started allowance last November when he turned 5 and was starting to understand math and money. He gets $1.25 per week. He has to save 50 cents, put 25 cents in the give-away jar (see below for more on these ideas) and can spend 50 cents. Which pretty much means he buys candy at gymnastics, and a super ball at soccer. Each time, before he puts the money in the slot, I ask him to pause… I say “you have two quarters this week, and you’re spending one of them now. Is that what you really want to do or do you want to save it for something else?” He always chooses to do it, but I want to teach that idea of Pause-To-Be-Sure before you spend the money. His spend money at this age is pretty much about whatever he WANTS – we take care of buying the things that meet his NEEDS.

When our older kids were in high school, we gave them $1 per year old, plus a clothing budget for back to school shopping in the fall, plus a Christmas gift budget. That was all they got from us. We didn’t hand them money to go out to a movie, we didn’t give them money to buy a birthday present for a friend, or to buy makeup, and we give them really minimal birthday and Christmas gifts, so that money was really their sole asset. The clothing budget was enough to buy plenty of clothes if they shopped at consignment stores. If they bought new, it wouldn’t go far. And yes, one time my child chose to spend her whole back to school budget on one high-priced item. (See discussion below on letting them live with the consequences of their actions!)

What is allowance for – how do you earn it? Some people make allowance the child’s salary for doing chores, and if they don’t do the chores, they don’t get the money. The advantage to that is it is closer to what they’ll experience in future paying jobs.

Personally, I don’t like it because it implies that household chores are optional. My oldest child who doesn’t care much about money and doesn’t like doing housework would have happily opted out of this system.

In our family, we have a mutual commitment to the work that needs to be done to keep the family functioning well (laundry, groceries, cleaning, and so on.) We all need to do our part in the work. In exchange for meeting our responsibilities, we also all get benefits – things like a roof over our heads, food, electricity, and yes, allowance for the kids. If you don’t meet your responsibilities, you can lose a privilege of the household (an easy one to take away that “hurts” your kid but not you is screen time… )

Cash Rewards? Cash for Extra Chores?

It’s good to make a conscious decision about whether there are other ways for your child to earn money. Many parents give cash for good grades. We do not. Just as my job is to go to work and do a good job, their job is to go to school and do their best there. (And again, the rewards we get for that are things like housing, food, electricity and spending money…. ) Sometimes, we do go out to eat or go to a movie to celebrate when someone’s done an especially good job at work or school. But it’s not a guaranteed cash reward.

We do pay for extra work outside of normal chores. That might be extra household chores like scraping moss off the driveway, or hemming the new curtains, or re-organizing the garage. Or, it might be doing things for my workplace. I work at non-profits, and I’ve “hired” my kids over the years to help out with some tasks that my employer can’t afford to pay a grown-up to do. So, from my agency’s point of view, my kids are volunteers, but I pay my kids extra to help. This has been everything from preparing bulk mailings to helping inventory class supplies to entering outcome evaluations data into spreadsheets. My middle child, who has always been motivated to earn money, was pretty much a fully trained admin assistant by the time she was 14. She taught my co-workers how to use the postage meter and other office equioment.

There’s a 13 year gap between my second child and my third, so many people joke that I have built-in babysitters. Here’s how we’ve handled that. In general, my husband and I are responsible for the little one. We are his parents, my older kids are not. But my older kids are expected to help out… if they’re in the kitchen and he asks for a glass of milk, they pour it. If he’s crying and I’m making dinner, they can choose to take over dinner prep or work with him, but they have to do one of those things. That’s just part of the jobs of the family, just like cleaning house is. If I need to run an errand, and they’re just hanging out at home, I leave him with them. But, if there’s a time when we need a babysitter where if we did not have these older children we would have to hire outside help, then we pay them for that time. So, when I worked on Tuesday nights all through one child’s senior year of high school, she watched her brother, and I paid her for that.

Save, Spend, Give – How to Divvy up the Pool of Money

When I was a kid, most kids got allowance as pure spending money – we could waste it on whatever we wanted. Many experts now recommend a different approach, that involves an essential idea of money management – saving some money for the future. And many add in a component of charitable giving.

The Moonjar financial literacy program (summarized here) recommends dividing money up into three containers: Spend, Save, and Share. TheMint.org recommends 4 jars:

A spending bank for money to be used soon on everyday things.
A saving bank for money to be used later on larger items.
An investing bank for money that will be used several years from now.
A giving bank for gifts to help others.

The Share Jar or “Giving Bank” can be only for charitable giving; or some families also use this for gifts for family and friends. Having a Share Jar is one way to talk about your family values with your child – is it important to give to people who have less than you do? Or important to give to causes that are important to you? Talk about it.

This article by Sahara Pirie offers a variation of four jars. Her child was required to put 10% of her allowance into each jar, and then divide the other 60% up as she saw fit.

  • Play (spending money for now)
  • Buy Later (a short-term savings which “which teaches the discipline, and deferred gratification, of saving funds to purchase something special”)
  • Give (charity – “Contributing to a larger good is one of our family values”), and
  • Financial Freedom (“We explained that the money would “never come out,” but would grow for when she wanted to retire. We later helped her transfer the money from the jar into a savings account, and later she will get to move the funds, if she wishes, into her own investments.”) Note: I personally find this definition of the financial freedom jar far too abstract… If I were to do it, I would wait to add that jar till my child was in high school, and I would tell them that was their rainy day fund for when they enter adult life after college.

We used the three jar concept with our older kids….. kind of. But, we were not as successful as we could have been with it. Most weeks when allowance day rolled around, we didn’t have cash, so we kind of scribbled down notes about where money would go or sort of kept track in our heads… really, we didn’t keep good track. So our kids didn’t really learn the lessons well. It would work much better to actually have real physical cash in hand. Especially for younger kids (say under age 8) who really need concrete objects to help them understand abstract ideas. We just need to go to the bank and get the cash stash we need to make this happen.

This points out a key thing to remember about allowance: whatever system you set up, make sure it’s easy for you to maintain. Consistency is important!

Tracking spending money

Encourage  your child to keep a money diary where they track what they spend their spending money on so they can decide in retrospect if those choices have made them happy. (I know plenty of adults who had a Starbucks hobby or other habit that was “just a couple bucks a day” then they then added up how much they spent in a month on that, and decided there were other things they’d rather do with that money.)

Saving toward a goal

We were not good with our older kids about setting goals for the savings jar. What tended to happen was they would build up a sum in there for a while, and then spontaneously decide to buy something pricey and use up all the money they saved. It would be much better to set a goal for something that’s important to them, develop a savings plan, track progress, and so on. This allows you to teach financial skills like budgeting, but also allows for more discussion about family values and priorities.

Recently, I had a discussion with my siblings (all in their 50’s) and we each remembered a story from our teens about we had worked very hard for and saved a long time to buy – a guitar, a stereo, a used car, a week at camp… we remembered lots and lots of hours of hard work babysitting, snow shoveling, weed pulling. We remembered tracking our progress toward our goal (and standing outside the music store window and dreaming) and the sense of accomplishment when we achieved what seemed an unreachable goal.

Talking about Money

Do your kids know how much you make? (roughly)  Do they know how you make financial decisions? They should! You are the biggest role model they’ll ever have for how to manage money. Talk to them about it. Be open and honest. Talk about your struggles and your mistakes. Talk about the smart choices you have made.

Prioritizing: What else could I get for that much money? As your children start getting older, they can understand price tags – that item costs $15. They may have saved up $15 and thus be capable of buying it, but you may want them to pause for a moment and realize that money spent on one thing is opportunity lost for spending it on something else. One way of doing this is to compare it to other items – “if you’re going to spend $15, what else could you get for that much money? OK, then, of the options you can afford, which one would you most like to have? Or would you rather keep saving money so that you could buy one of these other items that costs $20?”

How much does that really cost us? It is helpful if your child can contextualize dollar amounts within your family’s lifestyle. $15 can mean a lot of money for some families, and not much for others. So, you could say “That item costs as much as Mama earns in an hour. So, that’s one hour of Mama being at work.”

Wants versus Needs: We had a lot of long talks with our kids about the difference between what we want and what we need. We generally took care of their Needs, but they were on their own for Wants. My daughter told me recently that she remembers when she was young having no idea what that meant, but growing in understanding of it over the years.

Right now, with two in college, the rule is we pay tuition, room, board and books. That’s it. No more money for anything. If they choose to go out for pizza or a movie or want clothes or whatever, that’s on their dime. We also require that they get summer jobs. (We told them we required part-time school year jobs, but somehow that hasn’t happened….) Our older one has had some mighty lean Aprils and Mays when all the year’s money is used up, and a paycheck won’t come till May. We also told them that if they did badly in school and lost their academic scholarships, they would be required to take out loans and cover all those costs themselves in the future. Or if they took more than four years to complete a degree, they would need to take loans for that extra time.

Mistakes – Do you bail them out or make them live with the consequences?

The only way that our kids really learn anything is to have full responsibility for it. And that includes responsibility for their mistakes.

USU recommends

Resist the temptation to come to their rescue. Let kids feel the effects of the buying decisions, good or bad. If you’ll reinforce that they don’t get any more money, they’ll hopefully spend more wisely in the future. You do, of course, have the right to veto certain purchases that are unhealthy, unsafe, or in violation of your family’s principles. Spell those out in the beginning when discussing what allowances can and cannot cover (source)

Ron Lieber, the author of The Opposite of Spoiled says

Stand back and watch them fail spectacularly. No bailouts. You should want them to feel their mistakes deeply and earn money to solve their problems if need be. Better now than at age 24, when errors lead to wrecked credit scores and worse. (Source)

So, remember the year that my middle child spent all her back to school money on one expensive dress? At the time, she rationalized it as “I have lots of older clothes that are fine. So I’ll be fine with nothing else new.” About a month into the school year, she was regretting having no new clothes. And as much as she loved the dress, it wasn’t really something she could wear often. So, she suffered through some regrets, and then ended up taking on lots of extra jobs at home and for my work in order to supplement her clothing supply – with lots of carefully chosen items from the consignment store.

Role Modelling

Remember your children are watching you! I learned from my parents a lot of thrifty habits (coupons, budgeting, reading the insurance bills to make sure everything got paid correctly, and so on.) But I also learned that careful planning led to having money left over in the year’s budget to allow for special family trips.

One of my friends learned that when the monthly paycheck came, life was great for the next week or so – lots of special treats, going out to eat, going to the movies and so on. But, for the last week of the month… scraping to get by, not having enough food in the house to make a lunch for school, and so on. As an adult, she’s had to figure out how not to slip into this trap.

What are you modelling for your child?

Reading Books to Your Child

The Money on the Bookshelf curriculum incorporates children’s books into a financial literacy program. Reading and talking about books is one of the best ways for parents to teach children. Here’s a sampling of recommendations from their chart on recommended books, and what key money management concepts each book teaches.

Title Age Decision Making
Sheep  in a Shop 4 and up Decision making and problem solving
Ox Cart Man 4 and up Goal setting and allocating resources
The Purse 5 and up Goal setting, saving and problem solving
A Chair for My Mother 6 and up Recognizing resources, recognizing success
Something Good 7 and up Prioritizing

For each of the 12 books they cover, the curriculum includes facilitator and parent guides. They’re designed to be used for a class, but I also think parents could easily use them as a resource for family discussions and activities. As a sample, for the book Sheep in a Shop, the guide suggests:

  • First, read the book to yourself, and think about these ideas: the sheep have to choose a gift, there are many things to choose from, it’s hard to decide
  • As you read to your child, talk about: Why was it hard for the sheep to make a decision? They didn’t have enough money – how did they solve this problem?
  • Plan a swap meet with friends where kids can trade toys
  • Help your child choose a gift for someone

Working through one of these books and lesson plans every few months, starting when your child starts kindergarten, would be a great way to ground them in some good financial decision-making skills.


  • Money on the Bookshelf curriculum. This is a fully fleshed out curriculum (even includes icebreakers and evaluation tools if you’re an educator who wants to use this in a group setting.) It is for teaching financial literacy to parents of children age 4 – 10, especially low income parents. It covers everything: one section is on developmental characteristics of each age, and what you should teach at this age.
  • Why Is teaching children money matters so important from Utah State (USU) extension is a whole packet of tips. (Note to educators: this could be a source of handouts for your class – you wouldn’t have to use the whole packet, just the most helpful pages.)
  • MoneyBunny.com has .pdf books and .mp3 audio stories about saving money. There are also follow-up activities for teachers / parents to do after the story.
  • Hands On Banking from Wells Fargo – an interactive set of videos to explain basic concepts of finances and banking. I’m not sure what age group it’s designed for – my five year old found it engaging, but the activities were way over his head. (“If a scooter costs $45.99 and a shirt costs $12.99, how much would a scooter and two shirts cost – don’t forget to include the 10% sales tax.”
  • There are lots more good resources out there. Start your search at Jump Start – this is a searchable database – search for materials by age group and cost (includes lots of free items that are downloadable, plus recommendations for books and more)

photo credit: HODL! via photopin (license)

47 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (or Their Heads Will 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.” When I see that headline, I think of things like “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “I wish you’d never been born.” Those probably should fall in the category of things never to say to your kids. Or to anyone else’s kids, for that matter.

But what are the horrible, soul-wounding phrases that Parents magazine cautions against? “Great job.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Let me help.” “Be careful.” “You’re OK.”

Yeah. Pretty harsh, eh?

Now, when you read their article, it’s actually got lots of good content, with some helpful tips. It’s worth a read. I’m not concerned about the topic so much as the tone that is presented by the headline.

A better title would be “Translating Common Parenting Sayings into More Positive Statements Which Will Help Them 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 better for you than kale”) and it helps to convince people that if they don’t read the article something terrible will happen to them or their children. (“If you don’t follow these tips on screen time, your child will be brain damaged for life.”) Companies who advertise on a magazine’s website appreciate those “clickable” titles, because it means more people look at the article, and thus at their ads.

And it’s not just Parenting magazine – many other media outlets have used this same headline with success. Here’s just the first page of search results for “things never to say to your kids”

But, when parents read this headline, or countless others like it, how does it make parents 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.”

For example, check out this anxiety and guilt  inducing intro from Parent Society:

If you’re a halfway decent parent, you do your best to not swear at your children or call them names. But other phrases that roll off the tongue can be every bit as dangerous — especially since you might not even realize you’re saying them. Take a look at six phrases you need to cut out of your conversations…

Then to read through  those six dangerous phrases, you have to click through seven pages that are so loaded with ads, it’s hard to actually find the content…

So, let’s first reality check these messages:

  1. Parents will say mean things to their kids. We do. I do – just yesterday I said some things I’m sure are on lists of “things never to say to your kids.” We 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 them all [well, almost all] into the left hand column of this table. 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.

The middle column is just to help raise awareness of how these phrases could have a negative impact if over-used over time. The right hand column suggests other options you can try out, and gives resources for where you can learn more.

Phrase that “parenting experts” caution parents against using Negative / non-helpful ways the phrase could be heard by a child if this is all you ever said to them Alternative things to say or do (on good days when you have the time and energy) that may be more helpful
Good Job / 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 wide world

Empty praise – if it was something that was really easy for them to do, it’s weird to say good job.

Judgement – implies that there’s one right way to do things.

They’re reached their limit – you don’t think they can do any better.


They’ll someday realize you’re lying or exaggerating and lose faith in your judgment. Or they’ll feel pressure to really become the best.

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.

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

Conditional love. Also implies that your emotional well-being as an adult is dependent on your child’s behavior of the moment. Let your children know that you will always love them, no matter what. (This doesn’t mean that their behavior is always OK – it’s not, and you do need to set limits. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have high expectations for them – you do want them to work hard and be good people. But your happiness is not dependent on that.)
Practice makes perfect Well, practice makes much better. But, it doesn’t make perfect because nothing is perfect. And aiming for perfect implies that mistakes are evil. “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.”
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..

This is all labelling. Labelling your child limits them.

If you label them based on a problem behavior, It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they continue to be that way.

If you label them by a “talent” they have, then that creates a lot of pressure on them to retain that talent. They worry about losing your love / their identity if they don’t succeed in that area.

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.

You’re just like [someone I don’t like]
Why can’t you be more like….Stop acting like a baby.
You’re so [bad adjective]
Big boys don’t…
Good girls don’t….
The first labels them (see above). The second means they’re always being held to someone else’s standard.
These statements are intended to shame a child. “A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves.”
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. “What’s wrong?”
“What happened that upset you?”
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

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?

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.”
You’re OK (after child is hurt and is crying)

Don’t cry

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

Dismisses their feelings as unimportant.


Tells them not to trust their intuition and just do things even if they seem risky. (This could get them into all sorts of trouble as teenagers.)

Validate emotions and pain first, then reassure. Once you’ve said “I hear that you’re scared / hurt / worried” then 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. 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! 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.
Be careful. 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.” 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. Someday they’ll get that bruise, and they’ll learn something important.
Read more about teaching safety skills.
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

Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. You can tell that you’ll try to do all these things. “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.”
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?

We all know that children are terribly inconvenient room-mates who just make everything harder. But, we don’t need to tell them that every day!

These sorts of statements create stress and anxiety and make the child wonder if he is loved.

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 you don’t do [this bad thing], then you’ll get [this punishment]. “I’m expecting bad behavior and am looking forward to punishing you.” 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… Makes someone else into a bad guy.

Implies that you don’t have enough power to enforce consequences.

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

Yes, you probably told them not to do something, and yes, it’s frustrating when they do it anyway. But rubbing it in serves no purpose. “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 Implies that you make arbitrary judgments on a whim and they have no control over that. “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.”