3 "Outlaw Words" for Parents & Step-Parents

3 "Outlaw Words" for Parents & Step-Parents

We all know that communication is much more than words.  However, the words we choose are powerful.  Words can drive connection or drive a wedge.  Words can lift up or tear down.  Words can encourage or defeat. 

Words matter.

We all choose lots of different words when we're communicating with our kids and step-kids.  We want to know we're driving connection, lifting each other up and encouraging the members of our stepfamily.  Yet, there are a few everyday words that might be undermining what we're really after.

I love you, but…

My step-daughter, Annika made some unhealthy choices in her teen years that were challenging for Kim and I to parent her through.  At one point after being caught for one of those poor choices I remember the words I spoke:

"Annika, I love you, but…"

I wonder what Annika actually heard in that moment.  Regardless of what followed, I don't think the "I love you" made it through.

Outlaw Words

My friend, Mark Warren is a Communication Trainer and Calling Coach.  Mark has develop a list of words he calls "Outlaw Words".  These are words that we all need to BEWARE of in our conversations. 

Here's three of my favorites…especially when I'm talking with my kids:

But…

I've already shared the first one in my example with Annika.  Here's the problem:  anything that was said before the "but" is now irrelevant because of the "but". 

  • "You did great at your game today, but you could have pushed harder in the fourth quarter."
  • "You're so good at guitar, but you could get even better if you..."
  • "I love you, but..."

To avoid this Outlaw Word, try dropping it out all together or using "and" instead:

  • "You did great at your game today!  I noticed you lost a little steam in the fourth quarter...everything ok?"
  • "You're so good at guitar and you could get even better if you..."
  • "I love you, and you're going to need to make some changes."

Don't let "but" rob your kids and step-kids of your encouragement!

Why…

"Why" is a staple for most any parent's vocabulary.

  • "Why didn't you do your homework?"
  • "Why did you leave a big mess in the living room?"
  • "Why didn't you call when you knew you were going to be late?!"

Using the word "why" puts kids (and adults) on the defensive.  When faced with a "why" we all tend to think of excuses or work on a way out of the trouble we're in.  With kids, they often don't actually know why.  Our kids often respond to our "why" questions with "I dunno" or "cuz"…ever heard those responses?

Instead of "why" questions, try "what" questions:

  • "What kept you from doing your homework?"
  • "What happened in the living room?"
  • "What were you thinking about when you realized you were going to be late?"

Turn you why's to what's and see if you get a different response.

At Least…

Removing "at least" from your conversations can instantly improve your ability to be empathetic with your kids and step-kids.  (If you haven't already, check out Kim's recent post about empathy) 

When we use this little phrase, we are dismissing or minimizing our kid's struggles.  Here are some examples we use in our Stepfamily Workshop:

CHILD:  "I really want to play with my friends from our old neighborhood."

PARENT:  "At least you have the chance to make new friends here."

CHILD:  "I don't like sharing a room with my new step-brother."

PARENT:  "At least he'll be at his mom's house next week."

CHILD:  "I hate it when your new husband tells me what to do."

PARENT:  "At least he cares enough to teach you some responsibility."

Instead, try increasing your empathy by changing your "at least" responses:

CHILD:  "I really want to play with my friends from our old neighborhood."

PARENT:  "You had really good friends there didn't you?  I can see why you miss them."

CHILD:  "I don't like sharing a room with my new step-brother."

PARENT:  "Sounds like you're feeling frustrated.  Tell me more about that…"

CHILD:  "I hate it when your new husband tells me what to do."

PARENT:  "I'm sorry you feel that way.  I still expect you to follow the rules when I'm not here."

Watch out for "at least" - it can drive a wedge in your communication!

Words matter…use them wisely!

QUESTION:  Which of these "Outlaw Words" do you want to obliterate from your conversations today?  Leave a comment below…

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