Here’s a sneak peek at five of those key phrases every parent should say.
1. I like you
.“ ‘I love you’ is unconditional and that’s the broader context for our kids,” explained Axtell in an interview with the Star. “ ‘I like you’ says ‘I like you as a person, I like how you’re turning out, I like spending time with you, I like you as a friend.’ ” The two sentiments are both important, he stressed, but together they’re a lot more powerful.
2. Tell me more
. “The typical question we ask when kids come home from school is ‘How was school today?’ ” says Axtell. Opening the conversation that way prompts kids to give an assessment and usually yields answers like, “Fine.” If you say, “Tell me about your day” instead, suggests Axtell, or even “Tell me what you learned that you think I should know,” you’ll be far more likely to start a meaningful conversation. Really listening to their answers is key, though, stresses Axtell. “Give each child 15 undivided minutes of your time each day and see where they take the conversation.”
3. You’re a fast learner
. Tell your kids that they are fast learners rather than that they are smart. Why? If you emphasize being smart alone, kids may peg their early success in school on intelligence. Confronted with tougher classes — in university, for example — that confidence can quickly waver. But if you emphasize being a fast learner instead, kids “equate success to working hard.” That’s something your kids will benefit from their whole lives. “Early childhood educators say that working hard and feeling good about your ability to learn are two of the primary indicators of whether kids do well or not.”
4. We all make mistakes
. Kids get upset about not meeting all of our expectations, and (at least until they hit the teen years) many are under the false impression that parents are perfect, says Axtell. If you talk to your kids about your own mistakes when they’re grappling with theirs, it helps cultivate a healthy attitude about problems. “All generations of people could benefit from a different perspective on mistakes or problems.”
5. Let’s read
. When he was raising his own kids, Axtell would often come in the door after work and say, “Let’s go play catch.” But looking back he now wishes he’d emphasized reading instead, and does so with his grandchildren. “To guys that love sport, given that they are heroes in their kids’ lives, if they say, ‘Let’s go read’ it would set these kids up wonderfully for both school and learning about life,” he says.