The Words We Use
When We Speak
To Our Children
March 14, 2022
[Kyle]: All right, in today's episode we're going to talk about language and why what we say matters. So, Sara and I are going to try to help you get rid of some specific words in your family, to help your family feel more free and empowered, to really impact the story of your lives. So, I hope you enjoy our topic today.
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 22 of The Art of Raising Humans. I'm Kyle.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: And today we want to talk about language, the language we're using, how we're talking to our kids and how that can change the dynamics in our home and it's an important issue that I address a lot with families in sessions, in in the private practice, but also just in everyday life and it's really changed how we parent. So, how do you see language? Why is that so important in families and how we talk to our kids?
[Sara]: Okay. So, I want to say, I mean, we'll get into maybe more the details of what we're referring to, but we're talking about just this intentionality and how we phrase things. Sometimes we just “oh, that's just the way I say it” or “it's semantics, we're meaning the same thing”.
[Kyle]: Tomato, tomato.
[Sara]: Yeah, but really how we say it, it does kind of create this wiring in our brain, this intentionality in our brain. It clarifies and brings it into focus and so, I think we do want to be intentional about what word we're using, how we're saying that, what is that subtle message being sent there and so, you want to choose and we went through this point in our parenting where we thought “okay, this is what we're meaning, this is what we want to say, how we want to say it”. We had to get rid of some language we were used to and lean into and practice and practice and practice this other way of saying things.
[Kyle]: I think it goes towards we're really passionate about changing the legacy, like our parents gave us so many good things to build upon, but there's some stuff that we want to shift and change and I think one of the most important things, I didn't even know is that important, is language. Now, you and I went to school and we learned and a lot of listeners have probably heard things like saying “I feel” statements and stuff like that, right? And so, that's really important. We're not going to talk about that kind of stuff, but saying “I feel” brings the focus back to me taking responsibility--
[Sara]: Yeah, during conflict resolution. “I feel, blah, blah, blah when--”
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, a lot of those have been emphasized and kind of caught on in our culture, you kind of hear it a lot, but the ones I want to talk about today, I felt like were huge for us to change and I almost felt at times when we were doing this, you know, we kind of joked it was like as we switched our parenting to more-- This kind of more peaceful parenting or more loving guidance or whatever we're going to call it, this more intentional approach that doesn't involve fear and shame. It's like we needed to learn a whole new language, I felt like I was learning Spanish or learning French, you know? Because the way in which we're phrasing things was different, the words we were using to describe things was different and I just found that to be one of the most difficult things.
[Sara]: Yeah, for a while honestly, I would kind of have these scripts that I had memorized and I thought “okay, when this happens, when my child has a tantrum in the grocery store or when these moments happen, here is my plan. This is what I’m gonna say, this is how I’m gonna say it, so I could accomplish the goal I’m trying to get to”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and I know Dr. Becky Bailey, who does conscious discipline, she jokingly talks about when she's helping teachers shift this stuff. She would put those scripts up on the wall and sometimes, even Becky Bailey when she was learning her own scripts, would go to a kid and look up at the wall and try to say exactly, because the language is so important. How I say this to the kid does determine whether or not the outcome is going to be positive or negative, you know? And so, I never thought about that until I was learning that and going-- Just being more conscious of the language we were using.
[Sara]: It's sort of “which program am I going to run?” [Laughter]
[Kyle]: Yeah, that’s good.
[Sara]: And then both of them run on the computer and they both kind of can get the same thing done, but they do it in different ways and so, you have-- And reach this ultimate goal that I really want, so I’m going to have to pick the program. What scripts? How am I going to say this? How am I approaching this situation?
[Kyle]: Well, let's start with something small. So, one of the first things that I think was kind of easy for us to do, we saw it pretty quick and understood it, was getting words like “never” and “always” out of our language. Why would that be helpful?
[Sara]: Well, it's sort of this big sweeping, you fall into this deep pit when you say “you always--”, “you never this--” and it's really not true, you know? [Laughter]
[Sara]: There's so many nuances and subtleties and it's this sweeping thing and it's very-- It can be very triggering and it's really not helpful for the discussion.
[Kyle]: I think everybody gets defensive; you know? And almost every time I see that between parents or parents to kids, you'll see the other one kind of tense up or the other one get into like, argumentative mode, right? And I think it actually causes us to shift down the brain, you know? We go from the prefrontal cortex almost immediately to the limbic system and go “I always? You kidding me?” and I start to access all the files in my brain where I didn't do it.
[Kyle]: And now the whole conversation hasn't become about making any positive change, it's just to prove you wrong.
[Sara]: Yeah. Then it's just that “I’m proving to you; you never do it. You're proving to me, you sometimes do it” and we've lost sight.
[Kyle]: I’ve said it to many couples, Sara, who come in and want help and they'll say “my kid always does this” and I’ll just say then “what are we doing here? If your kid always does it, what are we trying to change? I don't understand it, because it seems like if your kid always does it or your kid never can do it, why are we asking the kid to do it? Let's just stop asking a kid”, because already what I’ve heard when the parent says that or when I’m saying that about our kids, I’m already starting from a place of no hope, like I’m basically saying “you never do this”, but then “I’m gonna get mad at you for not doing it, even though you never do it”. [Laughter] You're like “you always--” or “you never clean your room”, but now I’m going to tell you to clean your room and then I’ll get mad at you if you don't clean your room or “you never take your plates and put them up there at the sink”. Then why keep asking the kid? Because he's never doing it [Laughter] I’m only asking because I believe the kid can, so I need to start from a place of “you can do this”. You may not have done then and sometimes we'll correct the kids and say “they seldom do that” or “they often do that” or you know, “many times you've done that”, just to create--
[Sara]: It would even be better to say “you haven't done it yet”.
[Kyle]: Yes, that’s good, yeah.
[Sara]: Because at least it leaves the door open.
[Kyle]: Well, and this even jumps off our last podcast about lying and being honest, it's just a more honest thing to say. Saying “you always” or “never”, it's just not honest, it's actually not truthful, you know? So, that's a simple one, I think a lot of people have also heard that idea of “always/never” not being helpful, okay? But one I want to move into that I think a lot of parents haven't thought about, that I really think helped me quite a bit, was moving away from words like “have to/need to”, okay? Why would those be important to shift away from saying “you have to do that” or “I need to do this”.
[Sara]: Well, and I think “should” fits in there too.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, “should” too, yeah.
[Sara]: You know, in kind of this--
[Kyle]: “I should have known better”, you know?
[Sara]: Well, they-- To me, they ultimately have a judgment behind them or this black and white, I mean, “it's just the way that it has to be”.
[Sara]: And it creates this pull in you and this problem and it takes away any power that you have in this situation, because “you have to do it”, “you should do it”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, there's no choice in it. “I have to”, “I need to”.
[Sara]: Yeah, and if you don't do it, then obviously, you know. So, it just takes away from your own person, your own values, your own decisions, that you're playing-- The part you're playing in it, just moves it into this “have to/should/need to”.
[Kyle]: I mean, I even think there's so many things that are-- Some few things I can think of that actually fall in those categories, I’m being honest, “have to” or “need to”, you know? That I can really shift it to a “want to”, you know? And like “I don't have to go to work, I want to go to work”. Why do I want to go to work? Well, because I want to pay the bills, I want to make money, I want to be able to pay for the house, I want to-- “I have to eat”. No, I don't, like “I want to eat because I want to keep living”, right? I mean, almost anything I do in life, I’m like I said right now, I’m failing to think of one, I want to do it because it leads to an outcome I am choosing to have.
[Sara]: And it gets your brain focused on that outcome instead of this feeling right now. We all have feelings where we don't want to go to work, our kids don't want to go to school or they don't want to go to bed, they don't want to clean, they don't-- We all feel like that about things. So, it's okay, and instead of going “well, I have to go to school”, you kind of change your focus to “wait, why am I going to school? I want to go to school because I’m going to see my friends” or “I’m going to get my school done, so that I can eventually get this job that I want to get”. It just shifts you away from this battle you're having into this direction you're going and why you're choosing that direction.
[Kyle]: Almost always, Sara, when I’m talking to teenagers who hate school, they will almost always [Laughter] Most often use language “I have to go to school. I have to do my homework. I need to get this done”. There's no freedom, there's no freedom, like they have no choice. I mean, many of them actually don't know by ninth grade, they can just drop out [Laughter] Like they don't have to go to school, they're going-- I mean, we spend sometimes just a couple sessions just like, “it is your choice to do it, it is your choice to go”, right? But when “I have to”, Sara, I feel like the only choice I have is to hate it.
[Sara]: Well, and don't you also, just in the very words when you say it, I can feel the stress and the pressure mounting just with those words, versus “I want to” and there-- So, it also just builds in us this pressure, starts building up of all the “have to's” and “need to's” and things in life that are just managing us like we're a puppet.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, I know early on, I really resonated with this because I don't like to be controlled [Laughter] I don't like-- I realized how much I was saying to myself “I have to do that, need to do that” and I thought “man, I really want to emphasize the freedom we have to choose what I’m doing in any given situation” and what that looked like initially was, I’d hear the kids. I’d ask the kids to do something for me and they said “do I have to?” and my response was “no, you don't have to do a thing, you don't have to do anything. I’m asking you, I would like you to do it, it’d mean a lot to me” and that really resonated with me, that then when they did it, they actually realized they weren't just complying with something I said or just obeying reluctantly just, you know, where I saw our kids do kind of dragging their feet, getting it done and then I’d be like “get it done”, I started getting more upset about it, but when they were like “oh yeah, I guess if I’m gonna do it, is a choice I’m doing it and I’m doing it because I care about my dad and because my dad--” and then I thought, Sara, it also really helped me, if they still were resistant to doing it after I said that, I need to go back and repair that relationship. There's probably some misunderstanding happening, there's probably some connection that's been broken, maybe I haven't spent much time with them, right? Maybe what I want doesn't seem to matter as much as I would like it to.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, there's some reason they don't have buy-in.
[Kyle]: Yeah, where if they just have to--
[Sara]: So, maybe we should go back to that.
[Kyle]: Yeah, if they have to, I would see the resistance as I expected, because like, who really wants to do anything they have to do or need to do? You know? So, I thought giving “have to” and “need to”, we'll move on to “should to” in just a second, but “have to” and “need to” are really important to me, to change it to “want to”. I remember as we were doing this intentionally, telling the kids-- So, I mean, we were having conversation with kids about this, changing their own language. I remember Brennan one time, he was probably like six and I was getting in the car, the edger had broken and I was going to Lowe’s and to get it fixed. There was some kind of thing I need to get fixed on and Brennan said “where are you going?” and I said “well, I have to go to Lowe’s” and he said “dad, you don't have to go Lowe’s, you want to go to Lowe’s” and I sat there and I was like “that is so true, man, that's going to make actually my ride to Lowe’s much nicer”.
[Kyle]: Because I thought I was going because I had to, but really, I want this edger to be fixed, “I like my lawn clean and nice looking on the edge, I actually want to do this” and it was so cool that like the whole drive there, I was kind of like in a happier mood [Laughter] Because--
[Sara]: It shifts, it shifts you. What's going on inside of you instead of the battle that you're having with the haves and the needs, your shift into this “oh, okay, it's my choice and I’m actually going into something instead of being dragged in and resisting it”.
[Kyle]: Yes. Well, and then one other thought I really felt that in energy change, was as a school counselor back in the day I had to be at school at 7 30, and part of me was really resenting that, because I’d already done school in public school for 12 years. I had to get up early all that time and I’m like “man, now I’m an adult, I still have to get them really early and go to school and I’m really resenting this” [Laughter] and I found myself all really tired throughout the day and then I just began to be curious, I was like “I wonder what that's about, you know? Maybe I’m not going to bed early enough” and I tried that, go to bed earlier and sometimes that would work, but then I noticed that we went on vacation. If you and I were going to take the kids and go to Colorado and take like a long drive somewhere, I’d get up at like 5 00 a.m. and I wasn't tired at all, I’d be like excited, I’d be like “let's go!” and I thought “what's the difference between waking up at 5am to go to-- Or waking up at 6 a.m. and going to work?”. Well, the difference is I want to go to Colorado, I have to go to work, and I thought “what if I got up because I wanted to?”. So, then I thought “what's some things I’d want to do? I love reading books, I love drinking coffee, I love a little quiet time to do that”, so I purposely set my alarm for 5:30 and started waking up every morning with the coffee already going and I found the rest of the day I had more energy, because the whole first in the morning was based on me wanting to get up.
[Sara]: Yeah, instead of walking into resistance, you were embracing something you were choosing.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and even I got-- I stopped doing the snooze, because I felt like the snooze was a symbol of “have to, have to, have to, have to”, right? So, I even encourage teenagers who are having problems getting up, “stop hitting the snooze, man, get up because you want to, find out something you want to do when you wake up. Don't get up at the last minute to do--” and then I found I wanted to get to bed earlier, so I could wake up and do that thing, it was awesome! So, I thought “wow, this is so cool, how now getting to bed earlier is easier, because I’m looking forward to waking up and doing this other fun thing I want to do in the morning”, you know? So, that's just one way as adults, we could do that and model that to the kids, but I would encourage you to listen to yourself, you know, listen to yourself as a parent, how often are you saying “have to/need to”? How much of your day is dominated by that? Listen to your kids, watch their demeanor when they have to do something or need to and then watch when they want to. So, many parents see that with video games, like “well, he's so excited about video games”, because he wants to play! He doesn't have to play video games. I bet if he had to play video games, I bet you find the joy would start to decrease, you know, because now video games becomes a chore, becomes like a job, you know? So, instead I want them to want them.
[Kyle]: Now, one other word I’d say to focus on is, you brought up the word “should” and with “should”, the problem with that like you said, is it becomes about a judgment, like “I should know better, I should be doing that” and I know from all the stuff we've read, what we've tried to do in our personal life, changing that word to “could” is very powerful. So, can you tell us what's the difference between “should” and “could”?
[Sara]: Well, yeah, “should” comes with, like you said, a judgment, it's-- I’d say underneath it, if you boil it down it's sort of like “well, I’m a good person if I do it and I’m a bad person if I don't do it”, a lot of times that's what it breaks into.
[Sara]: “I’m doing this because I’m trying to be this good person, so I should go do that”.
[Kyle]: Yeah. “I should go to church. I should get my homework done in time. I should--”. All those kinds of things, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, even “I should spend time with my kids” or “I should--” And so, you again, you remove your choice and yourself from it and you're just this going along with what you have to do, need to do and should do in life, and you'll find resentment builds up, you'll find resistance builds up and you're just unhappy because you're not there anymore, it's just the “woulds” and “shoulds”, you know, “need to” and all of that.
[Sara]: So, you want to pull back into “oh, I could do this”, because then you're choosing to do that and you're looking at “why would I choose to do that?” and so, your focus is now moved from the judgment, to what the opportunity is, what the goal is. “Why would I do this? What--?”, you know, “what's in it for me and for what's happening and where I’m trying to go in life?” and it becomes a “could”, it becomes an opportunity to you.
[Kyle]: Yeah, I think a real comment would be “I should enjoy my kids, I should like getting on the ground and playing with them”, you know? and a lot of parents when they say that, you can immediately tell there's shame, there’s shame all over them like “what is my problem? I’m a horrible parent”, you know? And then I’ll tell them like “sometimes I don't like doing that either, you know?” [Laughter] “Sometimes I’d rather be on my phone reading a story or I’d rather be watching that show, than playing with my kid”, but that's where if I switch it to, I could enjoy that. I could enjoy that, I think-- Just even in that, I feel so free, it's like instead of me going “what is wrong with me? I’m such a bad parent because I don't constantly go «my kid's amazing!»”, you know? [Laughter]
[Sara]: And it brings in the creativity in that prefrontal cortex of like “okay, if I have this could before me, what do I want that to look like? Do I want to do that? Maybe there's another option out there” and not just stuck on “oh, I should go sit on the floor and play with my kid, I think I could do that. Well, I’m really trying to connect with them, is there another way we could connect?”
[Sara]: And so, it just creates that creativity and flow and you'll see so much joy going into that, than a should--
[Kyle]: That makes me think of, when Brennan, we’d do one-on-one time with him and he'd want to play cars and he could play cars for like hours [Laughter] And so like, I almost was anxious when it was time to hang out with Brennan, because he-- I’d be like “what do you want to do, buddy? Do you want to do cars?” That's when I said “oh shoot” and then I’d almost feel like “I guess I should play cars” or if I switch it, “I could play cars, I could do that for about 30 minutes and be like super into it and then, we could do something else”. So, I’d say “hey, what if we did that for like 30 minutes and we switched?” and he began-- And then that 30 minutes although it wasn't the 2 hours he would have liked, I was all in! And I wasn't the whole time going “I’m such a bad parent because I’m really kind of checking out throughout this car thing” [Laughter] And then I just-- I get into sometimes it would turn into 45 minutes and be like “where did the time go!?”, you know? Because I actually chose to do it, knowing I wasn't like trapped in this belief that I should do it to be a good parent, you know?
[Kyle]: So, now another one that we will not get into today just due to time, is the wording “it makes me”, like “that makes me so mad”. We'll do that for a whole another podcast, but I would love for listeners to just make more conscious, how much do you “should” on yourself? Okay? So, think about that, how much do you “should” on yourself and change the “should” to “could”. How much are you saying “have to/need to”? Okay? So, just be noticing those things, listen to your kids. It implies a lack of choice, it implies a lack of freedom and creativity, which is really what you're wanting to cultivate, you know? It really implies a lack of feeling power, empowered to change the story, to somehow impact the moment. “I’m just a slave to the moment, rather than this free person choosing”, right? And you want your kids to grow up with that empowerment, right?
[Sara]: Yeah, and lean into the “could” and “want to” for, you know, a week like you were-- And just get lean into it for a while and just notice how different you feel inside when you're thinking that way.
[Kyle]: So, if this is helpful to you, I mean, we would love to hear your feedback on other language, maybe other things that we're missing besides what we said that you've really changed, you've really been intentional about. I’ve got some really, you know, with some of these there's a lot of stories about how we've changed them, how they've changed how we see ourselves, but I’d love to hear language that you are intentional about saying to your kids. Would also love if you try to change this at your home and how that impacts, you know, your interactions or what you're noticing. So, we'd love any feedback, we'd love for you to give us five stars, because that's super cool of you to do that and also, to leave any comments and ask questions. You know, most of these topics Sara and I come up with, are from listeners, are from people that we run into just on a daily basis and is how we get a lot of these ideas. So, I’d love to get a topic from you.
[Kyle]: So, please visit us at parentinglegacy.com, that's the website where you can find more of the podcasts. You can find courses that we sell, a couple courses that we have there and yeah, we just really appreciate you listening to us today.
[Sara]: Have a great day.