Most parents have a list of phrases they heard and hated in childhood — and then vowed never to use on their own kids. Things that annoyed them, or frustrated them, or just felt like an arbitrary imposition of rules: Because I said so. Don’t make me turn this car around. If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?
Of course, there will come a time when you find yourself exhausted, exasperated, and out of ideas — and, to your horror, you’re uttering the same things that once made your eyes roll.
Below, parenting experts explain five ways to get language on your side by giving some old cliches a new spin.
Old phrase: “How was your day?”
Of course you want to ask your kid about their day; you care. It’s possibly the most-asked question in the history of parenting — but maybe also the most likely to yield an unsatisfying answer.
Clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, PhD, says it can be helpful for parents to remember that kids have already had a full day by the time they get home to report on it. “They have do a lot of code-switching to get through their day, and they’re exhausted,” she says. “They don’t want to do it all again for you.” Young people have to present so many different selves at school — chatting with their buddies on the basketball team, talking to a teacher about homework, ignoring taunts of bullies in the hallway — that it can be easy to feel overloaded by the end. Having to translate all of that again for a parent can just seem like one more task.
New phrase: “Today I thought of you when _______.”
It seems counterintuitive, but this can be more effective at opening up the lines of communication than directly asking your kid to recount their day. “[It shows] you hold them in mind when you’re not with them,” Mogel says, reminding them, subtly, that you’re invested in how they’re feeling. Instead of asking a question that seems interrogative, kicking things off yourself creates a less pressure-filled opportunity for them to share anything that might be on their minds.