Equipping children for adulthood isn’t a cookie-cutter process, nor is it easy: it’s one of the most challenging jobs that comes without an instruction manual. If there were a recipe for raising children to be independent and successful, we’d all be Top Chef parents, right?

Our words are impactful, and building a child’s self-worth and confidence begins with conversations. What we say––and how we say it––matters. It shapes who they become, the choices they make and how they develop. As parents and caregivers, it is up to us to be mindful of words. Our level of influence can elevate dreams and just as easily crush spirits. Here are a few tips to keep positive communication flowing between you and the little ones you love through the teen years and beyond.

Work Together

Working together as a family means communicating clearly as a team. Be specific when explaining new things or tasks to children. For little ones, demonstrate what you expect them to accomplish. For kids of all ages, encourage asking questions and be clear about consequences, whether for not completing chores or missing curfew. Using a respectful approach with your children also enables them better to understand directions from teachers, mentors and future employers.

More Than Words

The adage is true: it’s not just what you say but how you say it. Our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are non-verbal ways of communicating and are as important as our words. The way we deliver or receive messages conveys our feelings and attitude. Speak calmly, listen carefully, do not interrupt and refrain from judgment. Modeling these behaviors creates a mirror for children to see how important and loved they are. In turn, they will reflect those attributes to others.

mother and daughter in freezer aisle

Good Job

From toddlers to teens and beyond, affirming others is one of the best ways to motivate while teaching respect and responsibility. Keep it age-level appropriate and always specific.

  • Toddlers and preschoolers: “You put your plate in the sink. You’re a big helper, thank you!”
  • Young children: “I am so thankful you played with your sister today while I was on the phone. That was so kind of you and helped me tremendously.”
  • Older kids and teens: “Helping our sick neighbor mow their lawn was such a grown-up thing to do. It’s okay to feel proud when we help others, and I’m definitely proud of you.”

The Honesty Policy

The tough conversations are hard for parents. They’re almost as challenging as growing up is for your child. If you’re co-parenting, decide how you’ll handle the tough questions ahead of time. Will they be answered on a need-to-know basis? How young is too young for some topics? Is one of you better equipped to handle world peace inquiries while the other covers hormones and curfew? Regardless of who handles what is discussed, be on the same page and always be honest.

hiking woman with child on back

Love is a Verb

Sometimes in our day-to-day lives, we become so busy that we forget to tell others how much they mean to us. No matter how young they are or if the angsty teen rolls their eyes, children should never look back and wish they heard us tell them or showed them we loved them more often.

Sources: Parents, Positive Parenting and Psychology Today

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