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Do Your Words Stick?

Billy, “Moooommmm….look, the intergalactic super power action figure is out.  I haaaavvveee to have it!”

Mom, “Not today sweetie, I don’t have money for that.”

Billy, “But mom, I know Jared is gonna get it, c’mon pleeeaaaasseeeee?”

Mom, “Now what did I say…we are NOT getting that toy.  Besides, you don’t have to do what    

            everyone else is doing.  Now put it back.”

Billy, as he slams it into the cart, “We are getting it!”

Mom, “Put that back young man, right now.”

Billy, nearing tears, “This sucks!”

Mom, losing it quickly, “That’s it! Put it back right now and I mean it!”

Have you ever seen something like this unfold?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to add phrases like “I mean it” or “Right now”?  It seems like Billy’s mom has little control of the situation, much less her child.  Furthermore, it seems like Billy is learning the role of manipulator.  He’s learning that he can control one of the most important people in his life by throwing a fit.  Most would agree that this is sad.

We’ve discussed that one of the cornerstones of Love and Logic® is to utilize language to shape reality in effective and enforceable ways.  How do we make our words “stick”?  Language truly does shape reality, and we can look at this same situation from a different perspective.  Last month we took a quick glimpse at the two rules of Love and Logic®:  One, the adult sets firm limits without anger, lecture, threats, etc..  Two, when a child causes a problem the adult hands it back in loving ways.  This mom handles her son in a different way.  Let’s look.

Terry, “Moooommmm….look, the intergalactic super power action figure is out.  I haaaavvveee to have it!”

Mom, “I brought enough money for new shoes today…did you bring any of your money with you?”

Terry, “Nooooo, but I know Billy is going to get it…I have to have it.”

Mom, with sincere empathy,  “Ohhhhh, this is sad.  I wonder how you’ll figure this out?”

Terry, “C’mon Mom, just this once…pleeeaaassse?”

Mom, “And I have money for shoes…”

Terry, “This sucks!”

Mom, “I know.”

And, Mom begins to move away from the situation.  Now, Terry could go into a full on foot stomping, arm flailing tirade for the centuries, but we’ll address those really tough situations later.  For now, Terry knows that trying to get into a power struggle with his mom is futile.  Terry has learned that what mom says is golden.  What a gift she is giving her son.

The art of utilizing enforceable statements can be broken down into two parts.  One, most enforceable statements begin with “I” or “Feel free”.  Notice the enforceable statement that Mom gave Terry.  Two, the mindset for delivering enforceable statements centers around telling the child what you, as the adult, are willing to do.  When we first begin changing our language, I always recommend having sticky notes with key phrases on them plastered in areas where trouble seems to happen.  For example, I know a mom that had the phrase, “I charge $.50 for every minute of arguing” stuck right to her dashboard.  That’s enforceable.  When I started teaching, I had a sign that said, “I give full credit to assignments handed in on time.”  That, too, is enforceable.  I know a dad that had this on the drawer that had the snack/treats in it:  “I allow treats when I don’t have to remind kids to take care of their teeth.”  When we slip up and start using commands with anger, we make life very difficult for ourselves.  “Stop arguing!”  “Brush your teeth, RIGHT NOW!”  “Get your assignment in on time or else.”  This type of language breaks down relationships instead of building them.  Here are some great tips:


  • Nonjudgmental language. Instead of empty praise “Way to go’s” try “I noticed”.
  • Empathy vs. Anger, lectures, threats, and warnings.
  • Set limits in firm yet loving ways.
  • Expect children to do a fair amount of contributions to the family.
  • Allow kids to struggle with the consequences of poor choices instead of rescuing them.
  • Let children see that they can solve their own problems and make wiser decisions as a result.
  • Show them that manipulation and arguing are very ineffective ways of getting what they want out of life.
  • Focus on the “strain” not the “gain”.


  • Focusing only on the outcomes.
  • Praising appearance and other superficial attributes.
  • Using language in manipulative ways.
  • Using anger, lectures, threats, and warnings.