What Every Parent Should Know About The Power of Words

The Power of Words

As a parent working closely with our children, it’s easy to point out mistakes and what is wrong. It’s easy to see when things aren’t going the way we think they should. When we know our children are capable of more, it’s easy to talk about what is hard or get frustrated.

But how do we turn things like this around and build on what is going well in order to make progress towards our goals  – especially when it seems there is a long way to go?

It’s important as parents (and teachers) to realize the powerful impact our words have.

We can point out the negative or we can look for the positive (no matter how small) and point that out instead.

It takes effort, it takes paying careful attention. It can be the thing that spurs our children on to try hard, see that they have the ability within them to work hard on something and master it, and to keep from giving up. It’s human nature to do more of the thing we get compliments or praise for. As parents we need to do more complimenting our children on what we see they are doing well, or have the potential to do well at, rather than pointing out where they are lacking.
I have found that it is very powerful to say “I see this thing about you that is great – do that more!”

To give a few examples that involve practicing music:

Instead of “That’s out of tune” you might say say
“You have a great ear – let’s use it to work on getting right in tune.”
Instead of “That doesn’t sound right” you might say
“You can make a beautiful sound, let’s work on doing that this time through.”
I have said such things to students and seen them stand a up little straighter and really work at something afterwards. Sometimes a single comment like this totally changes a student’s attitude.
Parenting can be hard, staying patient can be hard, and waiting to see the payoff years from now from little things we are doing today can be a real challenge.
We so want what is best for our children and for them to work hard and to do well.
The words we say when we’re coaching them through the hard spots or just the not-so-exciting day to day spots have a huge impact.

In my experience, what students and children need is less criticism and more adults pointing to the things they can do well, and encouraging them to strive for that.

I’m not talking about false and empty praise but someone saying “I see you – I see great things that you are capable of – let’s do this task with that in mind.”
When my oldest daughter was young I would get frustrated with her bossiness and her need to get her sister to do things her way. But, then she kept getting leadership awards in dance class and I started to look at it in a new light. She didn’t need me to point out when she was being bossy and tell her it was wrong, she needed me to teach her to consider the feelings of others and be a kind leader.
We can look at many character qualities from two sides. We can point out the negative about certain qualities or we can see the potential in them when they are channeled productively.


I certainly don’t do this perfectly but I hope I choose the later most often and I hope my kids and students stand a little taller and feel a little more sense of purpose because of it.

I hope you’ll join me in trying to do the same.



6 thoughts on “What Every Parent Should Know About The Power of Words

  1. This is very helpful. After teaching traditionally for many years, I am now starting a Suzuki class in South America. Kids are wonderful, and I need to learn more on how to enter their world. Thanks! Kurt Meisenbach

  2. Thanks for writing this. It can be so difficult to make our words match our heart. One difficulty we have is the interpretation of praise to be insincere or a mere platitude. The child has ceased to see what they have accomplished and can’t believe otherwise.

    My son said the other day (in response to “Now make the first phrase as beautiful as the second”) “It’s not like I’m the best violist in the world”, to which I said “No… but you’re seven. You’re a good seven year old violist!” He wouldn’t have it. As the parent I see the arc of improvement over years but day-to-day end up vocalizing all of the changes that need to be made; my son internalizes the negative much more readily than the positive. I should try a practice where I say only encouraging or positive words!

    1. Each child is such an individual for sure. Maybe just praising the second phrase would be enough to get the message across. It is so hard to find the right balance and speak in a way out kids really hear what we’re trying to communicate!

  3. Christine, I shared your post on our Intentional Motherhood Community today. I am sure it will bless the moms who read it. We all need this reminder. I love that you gave specific examples. So good!

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