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When you face a parenting challenge—disruptive behavior, big emotions, or your own frustration—a short and simple go-to phrase can be your ticket to quickly settling problems in the moment.
“By using simple and concise phrases, we can avoid getting into lengthy arguments or debates with our children, which can escalate emotions and lead to negative outcomes,” said psychologist and family interventionist Vanessa Kahlon. “One-liners can help us remain calm and composed in stressful situations, as they provide a clear and consistent message to our children.”
Before you say something you’ll regret
We’ve all had those parenting moments where our child is emotional or just plain irritating, and we say something out of anger that makes everyone feel worse. Once you have a bank of one-liners to tap into, you can create a pause in the drama, allowing everyone to calm down.
“One-liners can be used to replace certain negative or ineffective reactions in parenting, such as it can help parents avoid the temptation to lecture their children, which can lead to boredom, disengagement, and resistance,” said Kahlon, author of How To Do Parenting With Confidence. “Additionally, one-liners can also replace critical or judgmental comments that might hurt a child’s self-esteem and damage the parent-child relationship.”
Instead of saying “you’re so lazy,” say “let’s get started” to encourage action. A short reminder phrase like “let’s get started” can also replace nagging, which can lead to resentment and defiance, Kahlon said.Instead of arguing with your child, say “I love you too much to argue.”Instead of trying to talk your child out of a tantrum, encourage them to express themselves by saying, “Let me know when you are calm so we can talk.” Instead of telling them what to do, ask “What choice do you want to make: A or B?”Instead of yelling “you need to listen to me!” say, “Let me know when you are ready to listen.”
Kahlon said, “let me know when you are ready to talk” is a versatile one-liner many parents can benefit from. It encourages children to express themselves with words, regulate their emotions, and problem solve.
“This one-liner can be used in a variety of situations, such as when a child is upset or frustrated and is crying, hitting or kicking,” she said.
Parent coach Cecilia Hilkey, an advocate for peaceful parenting and nonviolent communication, wrote about her search for one-liners to replace threats of punishment or bribing with rewards. She gleaned tips from parenting books and wrote them on a 3×5 index card to refer to in the heat of the moment.
Here are some more one-liners that can buy you and your child some time to calm down:
“Take a deep breath.” This will help you both regulate your emotions so communication is more effective.“This is hard.” It validates their feelings and is a cue that you are listening and ready to support them.“We all make mistakes.”“All your feelings are OK.”“I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to take a break for five minutes.” This let’s children know you have emotions too, and you need to calm down the same way they do.“How can we solve this?” gets your child involved in the problem-solving process.
Write your own parenting one-liners
Try Kahlon’s steps for coming up with your own effective one-liners:
Identify common frustrating situations. “Think about the situations that tend to cause conflict or stress in your household.” Kahlon said. “For example, mealtime, bedtime, or playtime might be situations where your child needs guidance or reminders.”Keep it simple. “One-liners should be short and easy to remember. Aim for phrases that are five words or less.”Be positive. “Focus on what your child should do rather than what they should not do.” For example, instead of saying “don’t run,” say “walk, please.”Customize to your child. “Consider your child’s personality and unique challenges when creating one-liners. For example, if your child is prone to interrupting, a one-liner like ‘wait your turn’ might be helpful. Ask the child what one liners they want to hear.”Get creative. “Don’t be afraid to have fun and get creative with your one-liners. Using playful language or incorporating your child’s interests can make them more memorable and enjoyable for your child.”
Once your kids get used to your regular one-liners, they will become like code phrases. You don’t have to confuse them with a long discussion—keep it short and they will know what you mean.
“Ultimately, using one-liners can help us stay calm and model effective communication skills for our children, leading to better parenting outcomes,” Kahlon said.