Inside: These miracle phrases will jolt you and your kid out of a negative downward spiral. Don’t forget to download the cheat sheet to help you learn how to reconnect with your child during those tough parenting moments.
Some days, I feel like I can’t do anything right as a parent. The baby will only sleep on me, my toddler throws a temper tantrum every five minutes, and everything I say to my 8-year-old seems to push her further away.
I know baby sleeplessness won’t last forever and tantrums are a phase, but this disconnection with my oldest daughter is new territory for me as a parent.
After she and I have been snapping at each other all day, I want to camp out in my bedroom with a tub of Nutella, queue up New Girl, and wait for the storm to pass.
I haven’t gone that far yet, but I definitely have retreated into myself with the explanation of “she needs space.” And what happened is the opposite of what I hoped for. The disconnect just got worse.
I knew there had to be a better way, so I researched the best way to handle these tough moments. And this is what I discovered.
Bonus: Download a free cheat sheet of these 10 miracle phrases, plus 7 bonus phrases.
No Island You’d Want to Visit
When you find yourself in this situation, it can feel like your child is on an island with a dark, churning ocean separating you and her.
Take a step toward the island? Uh, no thanks. I’d rather keep my footing on solid land.
But your kid feels like she’s on an island, too. With every nagging comment or barked command that comes from your mouth, the tide rises.
Your kid lashes out, desperate to grab onto something. Anything to keep her afloat. And you pull away. You get quiet, or you leave the room.
I mean, of course you do. She’s being unreasonable and grumpy and disrespectful. You can’t let her treat you like that!
But here’s what you don’t see: Your child is standing in the middle of that horrible, horrible island, the choppy water lashing at her feet. Feeling like she’s the most alone that any person in the world has ever felt.
Stress hormones are flooding her brain. She can’t think clearly. She can’t see that by lashing out, she’s pushing you further away. Her brain isn’t capable of pulling back for the bird’s eye view of her rapidly sinking island.
Some adults can’t get perspective in the middle of a stressful situation, and they’ve had a lifetime of practice. And yet we expect our kids to be able to.
What Your Child Needs From You
She needs you to build a bridge.
She needs to know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t like it or agree with it.
She needs you to help her flush the nasty stress hormones out of her body because until that happens, she’s physically incapable of moving on.
Because here’s the uncomfortable truth of these troubling parenting days: You probably feel like you can’t do or say anything right – but your child feels exactly the same way.
And in those moments, your child needs nothing more and nothing less than your empathy.
Related: A Quick Fix for a Pouting Kid
But Here’s the Problem
In these moments, you have your own stress hormones to deal with, too. You feel frustrated, annoyed, or even flat-out angry. Even though you know you need to do something to reach out to your kid, your emotions cloud your ability to think clearly. When that happens, you are incapabable of figuring out how to reconnect with your child.
Sometimes I’ve tried to deny that I feel frustrated or annoyed, but it never helps me deal with the situation. This is because bottling up a perfectly normal but negative emotion just makes it more intense.
Which is why I made the following list. Mainly, I made it for myself to use in those tough moments. But then I thought, Why not share it with others?
How to Reconnect With Your Child: 10 Miracle Phrases
Below are 10 phrases you can use to jolt you and your child out of a negative downward spiral. I even made a handy printable with 7 bonus phrases, which you can download below to hang on your fridge and help you remember how to reconnect with your child in the heat of the moment.
First, you should know these aren’t just phrases that sound nice or that my grandma taught me to use. My suggestions are based on the science of how the brain works in those emotionally charged moments.
Full disclosure: I’m not a neuroscientist. But I am a mom of three who reads a lot about science-backed parenting strategies. I compiled this list over a few months using several different sources, which I’ve noted or linked to below.
The next time you and your child aren’t getting along and you feel like you can’t say anything right, try one of these phrases.
1. Tell me how you’re feeling.
Getting your child to describe the emotion she’s feeling – even if it’s just a word or two – takes the power away from the emotion by engaging the prefrontal cortex of the brain. And that’s a very good thing because it’s the prefrontal cortex that acts as the “grown-up” and keeps you from playing video games all day or reacting like a three-year-old to every minor disappointment.
2. I want to understand how you’re feeling.
Again, you’re getting your child to find words to describe how she’s feeling, and that will help her move on. But also, with this phrase you’re showing that you feel empathy for her and what she’s feeling. Empathy will build a bridge from where you are to the sinking island where your child feels stuck.
For this phrase and the previous phrase to work, be sure to look your child in the eyes and really listen to what she’s telling you.
3. I love you, even when you feel angry.
I’m sure you already know why this phrase works. Children need unconditional love from their parents in order to thrive physically and emotionally. This phrase shows your little one that even when you aren’t getting along, you still love her.
Change “angry” to whatever emotion your child is feeling.
4. It’s okay to feel mad.
If your child tries to suppress what she’s feeling, the feeling will probably intensify and come out in an even more unpleasant way. Feelings are a normal part of being human – even the not-so-fun ones. When you acknowledge it’s okay to have yucky feelings, you show your child you still love her even during those times.
Again, change “mad” to the emotion your child is experiencing.
5. Can I give you a hug?
In these moments, something in your child’s brain called the amygdala takes over. Why am I telling you about some random brain doohickey that neither one of us can pronounce? Because when you experience a negative emotion, the amygdala comes to life like an over-reactive car alarm. Then your brain shuts down to logic and interprets every little thing as a threat. This is why reasoning with your child when she’s upset doesn’t do any good at all.
Here’s the good news: Giving your child a hug will get the happy chemicals oxytocin and serotonin flowing. Even better than that, oxytocin reduces the reactivity of the amygdala. Just remember to make it a good one – turns out you need to hit this magic number of seconds for a proper hug.
6. Let’s take a deep breath together.
Deep breaths can stop a body’s stress response and lower the heart rate. And that’s something you and your child can definitely use during those strained times.
7. How can I help?
Asking this question gets your child thinking about solutions instead of focusing on the negative emotion. In order to think about solutions, your kiddo will need to engage her prefrontal cortex. And even if she can’t think of anything, the fact that you’re offering to help makes a big statement that you truly do care about how she’s feeling.
8. Can we start over?
This question works as a reset button. But first, a warning: The first few times you use it, it may not work. Here’s how to fix that.
9. I’m sorry for…
You are human, after all. Show your child that a real adult owns up to her mistakes, and your little one will learn to do it, too. Maybe you didn’t acknowledge your child’s feelings at first. Or maybe you used a frustrated tone with her when you were actually upset about something that happened at work, or because you just realized you bounced a check, or because you haven’t slept more than three hours straight in three years.
For the record, this is not an effective apology: “I’m sorry I lost my temper, but you should know better.” Research shows a heartfelt apology helps repair a relationship, but no “buts” allowed.
10. Next time, I’ll…
For example, you might say, “I’m sorry I lost my temper, and next time I’ll try harder to stay calm.” A promise to change is an essential part of an apology.
Download Your Free Cheat Sheet (With Bonus Phrases!)
When you’re in the thick of a negative interaction, it’s hard for your brain to settle on the right thing to say in order to reconnect with your child. Use this cheat sheet to help you in those tough moments. You’ll find these 10 phrases plus 7 more.
- Download the free cheat sheet. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like the fridge.
Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet:
How to Catch Yourself Before You Lose Your Cool
After my family welcomed our third little one into the mix, we became a family of five with a second-grader, a toddler, and a newborn. Even though I could have used more sleep and way more coffee, we were happy. Then my husband’s paternity leave ended, and I was at home with the kids all day. As time wore on, my patience became razor thin. And one day, I just broke.
The shame burns my cheeks just thinking of that day, even now. But thanks to that experience, I realized I had to make a change. I threw myself into researching how to find happiness in the chaos of parenting. Something beyond “make time for you” and “exercise more.” Because when you’re overwhelmed and at your breaking point, you don’t need the “experts” telling you more stuff to do on top of everything else.
That’s how I discovered the secrets: 10 secrets every parent should know about being happy. After hearing from hundreds of parents in the same boat as me, I knew I needed to share what I discovered. And so I wrote a book: Happy You, Happy Family. One section of the book gives you a Temper-Taming Toolkit to help you keep your cool during those everyday parenting moments that test your patience. Plus, you’ll learn the exact steps for how to repair your relationship with your child (or your partner) after the storm.
Click here to download a free excerpt and start your journey towards finding more happiness as a parent.
Because the truth is that happiness won’t come from a big promotion at work, or from winning the lottery, or from your kids all learning to put their toys away when they’re done playing. Because eventually, you just get used to all that stuff.
True, lasting happiness comes from a conscious effort by you to put the right habits in place.
Download my FREE cheat sheet: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
Do you have a tip for how to reconnect with your child? Share in a comment below!