The Best Parenting Advice Ever…. 13 Magic Words

I love vacuuming.  Seriously I do.  Not only do I love the resulting clean house, but I love the sound of dirt, rocks, dried mud, and whatever else rockets up the hose.  When I vacuum, baby, I go for it.  And my kids know it.

So as I was vacuuming today, I was reminded of one of the BEST parenting tips ever given to me…

Say what you mean,

Mean what you say,

And don’t say it MEAN!

Simple?     Perhaps…      Catchy?  Yes!        Life changing?  Definitely!!


“It’s too late to go the park…”

“You need to eat your broccoli…”

“You need to finish your homework…”

“You can have chocolate only after your healthy food is finished…”

“Please don’t lick the toilet seat!”

These are all examples of simple sentences parents say everyday (maybe not the last one – am I the only one who has said that?).   All of these examples can be delivered in many different ways, each with their own result.

When I am in the ‘vacuum zone’, my children receive 2 reminders that “Whatever is on the floor will be sucked up into the vacuum…”  Simple.  I deliver this reminder NOT as a threat – not with harsh tones or raised voices, but rather as a matter of fact – like a dispassionate cop.  This is what will happen – the vacuum will come and suck up whatever is on the floor — the natural consequence…

Let’s break down SWYM-MWUS-DSIM (my terrible acronym but what can you do)

“Say What you Mean” – hints, allegations, sarcasm, and other advanced ‘adult’ communication techniques are ineffective and tend to either confuse, send mixed messages or to be lost altogether on young ears.  Say clearly what you want, how you feel, etc.  “I wish you’d clean your Room” is vague and a child might not know exactly how to respond.  Be clear and use simple language “Please make your bed, put your dirty clothes in the hamper, and put the books back on the bookshelf”.

Another part of this is SAY WHAT YOU WANT, not what you don’t want.  If a child is running on a pool deck, “Justin, no running” is not as effective as “Justin, please walk”

If a toddler is pouring sand out of the sandbox, “Madison, stop pouring the sand out” is not as cool as “Madison, let’s keep the sand inside the sandbox!”

“Mean What you Say” – Simple.  Don’t say it unless you mean it.  Whether you are providing encouragement or discipline, you have to mean it.  If you are discussing consequences, make sure you can follow through.   Empty threats will only make the situation worse – “Don’t make me turn this car around!” – Baby you are too far gone.

“Don’t Say it Mean” – aaah, so simple, yet so challenging.  You can change the meaning, context, and reaction with just your tone and intention.  The EXACT same words said 3 different ways, will elicit 3 different reactions.   Think about this sentence “Put your shoes in the closet so we don’t trip on them!” – imagine the possibilities… How you would say it?   Your tone of voice is critical as is your body language – are you towering over your child or are you down at their level?  Are you barking/delivering your message as a THREAT?  Imposing your perceived POWER?

As dads, sometimes we can get caught playing the ‘Authority Song’ – our word is the LAW – (“while you are under this roof young lady…”) so we demand results, obedience, and absolute compliance.  Whether this authority script is from your own childhood upbringing or wherever you picked it up, it may be time to open up your “DAD Schematics” and examine the effectiveness of your delivery.

I have started experimenting within this “Say what you mean” motto.  As a naturally upbeat person, I find that sometimes my instructions to my children (“let’s get your shoes on for school”) are a little too “sing-songy” and have to be repeated 3 and 4 times.  I have even channelled phrases from my own childhood and let this beauty slip from my lips, “I shouldn’t have to tell you 4 times!” – then I tell myself, you are right – you shouldn’t have to say it 4 times… so say it once – but here is my new tactic… I speak slower in a tone one notch below my normal tone, but once notch above a whisper – the results have been astounding!   I will ride this wave until a new change is needed…

If you follow this simple motto, you will become a better parent TODAY.  I promise.  I must go now and finish my vacuuming, but remember…

Say what you mean,

Mean what you say,

And don’t say it MEAN!

Questions?  Comments?  Examples?  Please share your thoughts…

Until next time…