Helpful Language: A Guide for Challenging Moments

When it comes to parenting, here are five common scenarios we often face with children and the language we can use to help provide understanding, meaning, and growth.
Scenario One
Your child is playing with a toy that another child wants/tries to take from them or the reverse; your child wants a toy that someone else is using.
  • You could say: “I can see that you really want that toy. Your friend is using it right now but when they are finished and it becomes available, you can have a turn.”
  • Explanation: Instead of forcing or coaxing our children to share their toy with another child, it is more beneficial that we show them how to take turns. This respects the child’s time and recognizes that the play they are engaged in, matters. It also helps to foster true generosity, as they are able to maintain control over their playtime while being able to happily give someone else a turn because they are finished rather than forced to be finished. On the reverse end, it teaches our children delayed gratification and impulse control when they must wait to take their turn. By doing so, they are building the understanding that their peer’s needs matter and that sometimes waiting is important.
Scenario Two
Your child is dis-regulated: angry, upset, or sad due to having to say goodbye to their caregiver or being emerged in a new environment.
  • You could say: “I know it can be so hard to say goodbye or feel scary to be in a new space, but you are safe and with someone who will protect and help you. I will miss you and you will see Mommy or Daddy after Shalom Havarim.”
  • Explanation: It is important to remind children of what is true, rather than what we want them to feel. Rather than saying, “you are okay,” we want to show our children that we recognize they are not okay because they are showing us with their actions (crying, yelling, etc.). Even though we know the situation will ultimately be okay and that they will move passed the big feelings, by validating, we are respecting their emotional process. Instead, we can remind them of tangible things they can see like, “you are in a room that is safe, with people who will help and support you.” Or “here are some things we can do in this space when you feel ready.” By giving them a tangible plan and clear expectations for what’s to come, it will help regulate their bodies.
Scenario Three
Your child really wants your attention, but you are attending to something that is meaningful to you like work, another sibling or self-care.
  • You could say: “I see you really want my time right now and Mommy (or Daddy) really wants to be with you too. I’m going to finish working on my project because it is important that I finish my work on time. Here are the things we can do together when I’m finished. I look forward to spending time together.”
  • Explanation: While we are parents first, we also have other aspects of our lives that are important for us to attend to. It is okay to have other things in our life that require our time. Our children can wait for us to attend to things that are meaningful. By explaining why something is meaningful to you, you build your child’s understanding of other people's needs. By doing this, we create a teachable example by creating awareness of the respect of others' needs. We want to build a partnership with our children that encompasses empathy while also being realistic.
Scenario Four
Your child often throws his/her toys or other objects not meant for throwing.
  • You could say: “Toys are not for throwing because they could hurt someone’s body, or the toy can break, and we can no longer use it. If we throw the toys, then mommy/daddy will have to put them away.” We can give the child other opportunities to try again by saying, “Are you ready to try again? or, “Can you show me how we use the toy safely?” We also recommend giving the child opportunities to play with things that are for throwing in a safe space like an outdoor area. You could say, “This toy is not for throwing but let me show you a toy that is safe to throw. We can throw it in the backyard, so nothing gets broken.”
  • Explanation: We want to explain to the child what their choices are and give meaning to why we are providing those choices. We don’t throw toys because they will break or because they can hurt someone. Simply saying no, without giving an explanation, does not provide the child with a meaningful reason or understanding about cause and effect. By providing meaning, the child can learn that their actions can affect others. We also want to build empathy towards others' needs and responsibility of taking care of one’s things.
Scenario Five
Your child is frustrated or upset and is showing that through hitting or aggressive behavior.
  • You could say: “I see that you are upset but when you hit mommy/daddy, it hurts my body and makes me feel sad,” or “If you are going to hit my body, I am going to walk away so I can take some space to be safe. I do not like it when you hit my body.” You could end with, “When you are ready to be gentle, I can come be with you and we can talk about how you feel.” There is also a series of books that help redirect unsafe behaviors; one of which is called, “Hands Are Not for Hitting,” by Martine Agassi.
  • Explanation: As we model self-care and express our needs to our children, we teach them about their own self-care and the importance of their own needs being met. Additionally, we show them that it is okay to tell others how something makes us feel and what we need to feel safe and protected. By being clear and loving, we can help provide our children with ways of dealing with anger or sadness. Books are an amazing way of supporting that learning.
Keep it Positive!
While it is important to narrate these areas of growth and learning when we are trying to correct a behavior, it equally as important to provide feedback when we notice that they are making safe and positive choices as well. An example would be, “I noticed you are playing with that toy so safely and taking care of your things so that they will last a long time,” or “Thank you for being gentle with mommy’s body. It makes me feel good when you are kind.” It is vital that they continue to hear positive language and that their good choices are rewarded with love and support just as much as any other choice. We want our children to know that we see how hard they are working, build their self-confidence and support both areas of strength and growth alike.
Sinai Akiba Academy is a private Jewish day school in Los Angeles, serving students in Early Childhood through Grade 8. We also offer a variety of parenting classes and programs for children through our Parenting Center

Sinai Akiba Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.

10400 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles CA 90024
310 475 6401

a Sinai Temple school

A Sinai Temple School