TRANSCRIPT: Your Parenting Long Game Episode 105 – “Change This One Word for More Connection and Cooperation”
Hello. It is Rachel. And welcome to episode 105 of “Your Parenting Long Game,. In this episode, I’m going to suggest that you change one word if you want more connection and cooperation with your children…or actually anybody else. I have to tell you , I love to give parents suggestions for what to say and how to communicate more effectively in the moment. And in my Parenting Academy, I’ve always offered, “Say This, Not That” phrases. I’ve actually recently added practice sessions in the Academy too, so members not only know what to say, but they can practice saying it so that it becomes more natural. For better or worse, it does matter what we say and how we say it. And I’ll tell you why it matters so much in a moment. In this episode, though, I’m gonna be pretty specific about one word you want to try to use less if you want more connection with your children and more cooperation.
So I’m going to tell you what that word is. And I will offer some alternatives since I’m asking you to use it less. Remember too, please, if you like this episode or others, to rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Other parents find the podcast — and these hopefully-valuable tips — based on how many subscribers and ratings it has. And I’d be really grateful if you take a moment to help me reach those other parents with these tips. And just so you know, I do read every comment that is left. I recognize that you’re taking your time to write the comment, so I’m going to take my time to read them.
You may be wondering, based on this episode, what the word is that I want you to say less of and that word is: “But.” No, it’s not the kind of “butt” that little kids and some goofy parents love to laugh at. The word I mean, is the B-U-T kind. In order to explain why I suggest using the word “but” less — and what to do instead — I wanna remind you of something basic about humans and communication. So humans are survival-based creatures. We are always on the lookout for possible threats. And when someone approaches us with any type of communication, whether that’s words or body language, or energy, our brains are determining whether they’re a threat or not. And our brains actually categorize other people (without us even necessarily realizing it) as a threat or someone who’s on our side. And if we sense that someone is not on our side, we go into fight or flight. And we will usually, when we are in fight or flight, not respond in a mature, effective way. This is true of us and it’s true of our children.
So when you approach and communicate with your child, through your words, through your body language or through your energy, your child is determining whether you’re on their side or not. When you ask them to clean their room, or when you suggest that they find something to do when they whine “I’m bored!”, or when you encourage them to stop being so negative, when they complain about school…if they sense through your words or your energy that you’re not on their side, they’re gonna go into yuck. Their fight or flight response is gonna kick in the connection between the two of you will be severed and they’re not likely to cooperate or do what you want them to do. And if you think about it, when someone approaches you and you don’t sense that they’re on your side, you are likely to do the same thing. Imagine your spouse or a parent — maybe now, even as an adult or when you were a child — imagine they approached you from a place of frustration or anger or disappointment. How do you feel and what do you do? Do you wanna cooperate? Do you feel connected with them? Do you wanna move toward them or do you wanna move away from them?
Now I know that some of you know that you wanna try to show you are on the same side as your child. And I hear a lot of parents try to do this by stating how their child feels. So you may say something like, “You don’t want to clean your room,” or “You are bored and have nothing to do,” or “You really don’t like school.” So you’re taking the time to say your child’s perspective. Then THE WORD comes in… And that word is “BUT.” So what I usually hear is “You don’t wanna clean your room, but you have to.” “You’re bored and have nothing to do, but I’m busy and I can’t play with you.” “You really don’t like school, but you have to go.”
The word “but,” while it completely makes sense, it puts them on the defense. It puts them into Yuck. Because first of all, at the very least it undoes what you just said. So if you just stated their perspective, the word “but” basically undoes that. But at its worst, the word “but” implies that you do see their perspective, that you do understand that they don’t want to clean their room…that they’re bored…that they don’t want to go to school… BUT that you don’t care about their perspective.
So I’m going to read those phrases again and I want you to think about it from a child’s perspective. All this could show to them that you really don’t care about how they feel. So here are those phrases: “You don’t wanna clean your room, but you have to.” “You’re bored and have nothing to do, but I’m busy and I can’t play with you.” “You really don’t like school, but you have to go.”
When you say these things, when you undo and show them (from THEIR perspective) that you don’t really care, that you’re not on their side, they’re likely to get defensive and dig their heels in deeper. So if you say, “You don’t wanna clean your room, but you have to,” they might just say, “No, I won’t.” If you say , ‘You are bored and have nothing to do, but I’m busy and I can’t play with you,” they might say , “You’re so mean.” If you say, “You really don’t like school, but you have to go,” they might just say, “Well fine then I won’t do my homework. You can’t make me do that.”
What do we do instead? Do we agree with everything they say, do we make them feel good all the time? Of course not. That is not the goal. What you wanna do is think about, what’s gonna show them that you are on their side so that you can become a more powerful influence. And one of the simple ways to do this is to replace the word, “but” with “because.” When you replace “but” with “because,” you create what I call a “because statement ” –a statement that shows them that you are on their side or at the very least, you are trying to take the time to understand them.
Instead of saying, “You don’t want to clean your room, but you have to,” you could say, “You don’t wanna clean your room because it seems like it’ll take a really long time and you have other things you want to do.” Instead of saying, “You are bored and have nothing to do, but I’m busy and I can’t play with you,” you can say, “You are bored and have nothing to do because I’m making dinner right now and I’m not playing with you.” Instead of saying, “You really don’t like school, but you have to go,” you could say, “You really don’t like school because your teacher calls on you and you don’t want her to. And it embarrasses you.”
You are really trying to get into their shoes and show them that you care about their point of view. And “because statements” are really simple, but they have huge benefits. First of all, again, it shows them that you are on their side and you are not just trying to push your agenda, that you care about them, not just convincing them that you are right, and they are wrong. “Because statements” also help you understand what they are going through. So you can start to help them. “Because statements” do require you to truly see the situation from their perspective a little bit, and that can help you help them meet the boundary that you’re setting. “Because statements” also are very respectful and they help kids trust their instincts rather than telling them that their feelings are wrong. When we say “but,” we’re basically saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way because you have to do the thing I want you to do.” So this really does help them trust their instinct and believe their own feelings, which we really want them to be able to do as they get older, as they are trying to develop healthy self esteem.
Now, what about when you want to show that you are on their side and you still have to set a boundary, because that’s part of our job too — to set boundaries and let them know there are limits. So here’s the formula and how it might sound: The formula actually starts with that because statement — “You _____ because ______.” Then after you make your because statement, you pause and add: “And __________ so blank.” Now I’m gonna break that down for you. So you start with a because statement, “You really don’t like school because your teacher calls on you when you don’t want her to, and it embarrass you.” Then you pause and you add the boundary statement –your “and” is your boundary and your “so” is how you’re gonna help them meet that boundary.
So it sound like this: “And school is required by law. So let’s figure out a way for you to let your teacher know that it embarrass you. We can come up with a few ideas and you can tell me which one feels best for you.” So the boundary is “school is required by law,” or you could say, “I can’t let you stay home.” Or “The rule in this house is we go to school.” Any way you want to say your boundary. Then you want to say, “So,” and help them reach the boundary. That was, “Let’s figure out a way for you to let your teacher know. We can come up with ideas and you can tell me which one feels best for you.” Now I’m gonna give you other examples of this all together.
This is a because statement and that boundary statement. Here’s what it may sound like. “You don’t wanna clean your room because it seems like it’ll take a long time and you have other things you wanna do. And it is room cleaning day. So let’s figure out how we can make it happen as fast as possible so you can get to those other things you wanna do.” Again, you’re stating the boundary and you’re helping them meet the boundary. All of this is being on their side while still enforcing a boundary. Another example: “You are bored and you have nothing to do because I’m making dinner right now.” Pause. “And since I have to make dinner, I have an idea about what you can do.” And then you can suggest things that they can do while you are making dinner. Again, you’re stating the boundary and you’re helping them meet the boundary. You are on their side.
Let me wrap this up with a story. Dad Jason was frequently arguing with his son, Lucas, who wouldn’t brush his teeth when he was supposed to. As many of us do, Jason usually started making the request for Lucas to brush his teeth pretty calmly. But when Lucas didn’t listen, he became angry pretty quickly. And not surprisingly when dad Jason became angry, Lucas still wouldn’t listen. He still wouldn’t brush his teeth. So after we talked, dad Jason realized that when he got angry, Lucas actually resisted him more. So we talked about Jason using the fill-in-the-blank statements that I mentioned above.
Jason started by saying, “You don’t wanna brush your teeth, Lucas, because you don’t wanna stop watching the TV show you were watching right before. It’s a really good show. Now just creating that because statement helped dad Jason, as much as it helped Lucas. It allowed Jason to see that Lucas was having a problem, not being a problem. He was in the middle of a show. He was enjoying it and he was having a hard time stopping. Then dad Jason said, =”And you do have to brush your teeth, Lucas,. So why don’t we figure out how you can tell me about the show you were watching after — or maybe during — toothbrush time?”
And it turns out, they began a ritual of Lucas brushing his teeth. And after he’d finished the top row of brushing his teeth, he would tell his dad something about the show. And then after he did the bottom row of his teeth, he would tell him something different about what he was watching. They were able to come up with this ritual because first of all, Jason understood what was going on. He took the time to get into Lucas’s world and create a because statement. It was helpful because Jason approached him as if they were on the same team, even when their goal wasn’t the same. Lucas wanted to keep watching. Jason wanted him to brush his teeth. But Jason understood what Lucas was going through and trying to help him meet the boundary. Instead of getting angry with him, being a child who doesn’t automatically jump up and do what we want to do.
Here is the action that I suggest you take if you want to start to form this connection and motivate more cooperation: First, identify a scenario where you get resistance from your child. And think of a “because statement.” Really try to see the situation from their world. And I will tell you that it is rarely because they just don’t feel like doing something. I have an episode where I talk about the fact that it’s never that a child just doesn’t feel like doing something. There’s always something deeper than that. So try to figure out what is going on for them and use that because statement.
Then, think about how you can state the boundary very simply and what you can suggest to help them meet the boundary given what their point of view is. So you’re trying to help them do what they’re supposed to do, rather than getting angry or forcing them to do something which will only bring about more resistance. Because when you understand there is a reason for their negative behavior, moods and attitudes, then you address that reason. And when you work with them against the problem, there are fewer power struggles and less negativity. And when you approach them as someone who is on their side, it works better and it feels better for them and it feels better for you.
If you wanna see a visual of these statements that I mentioned, you can go ahead to my website and print out a resource that is basically a summary of this episode. You’ll find at Rachel-bailey.com/105. I will be back again soon, of course, with more tips to improve your parenting long game. I’ll see you then.