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3 Magic Phrases for Parents


“Next time...”

I picked up this phrase up from clinical psychologist and early childhood educator Elinor Griffin. Her book, Island of Childhood, was written in the early ‘80s. It remains largely referenced for early childhood education training at the best university-based lab schools today, including Stanford University. Griffin, like other early childhood parenting experts, understood that discipline for young kids is really all about teaching and learning—in fact, the Latin derivative disciplina is translated as instruction or education. Somehow our society has gotten to think of discipline more in terms of punishment and training.

The idea for Griffin and other experts like Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, is to treat mistakes as learning opportunities. The adult's role is to gently help children translate and absorb the lesson—the goal being to learn from it, and improve in future endeavors. Which brings us to our first phrase: “Next time.” It's a great one to get used to saying. I can't even avoid writing it here: the next time your child breaks a rule, crosses a line, or makes any mistake, instead of punishing her, talk about what happened, why it happened, and what we can do better next time.

Notice I said “we.” The more you create an atmosphere where we're all in this together and we’re learning as we go, the better! When the focus is on solutions and learning, children are encouraged to strive for improvement in the future. “Next time” helps them get there. Griffin explains, “Hearing this, he thinks of himself as a success (tomorrow), rather than a failure today.”

Incidentally, if you want to build unity and hit home the idea that you are all working together, you might follow the phrase “next time” with the contraction “let's.” “Next time” and “let's” go together like peanut butter and jelly—with no allergens or added sugar! With younger children, just combine them and let it roll: “Next time, let's not throw the ball in the house so we don't break anything,” or “Next time, let's not hit our friend so we don't hurt them.”

You might have noticed the word “so” snuck in there twice. It's another useful add-on. Give a child a brief reason or explanation each time you set a limit. Why bother, you ask? Well for one, you instantly become more of a teacher and less of a dictator. (Who would you rather take input from?) You also instill your values and expectations. In short, you treat your child with respect. When you do that, he will more likely treat you with mutual respect. It's called the Golden Rule for a reason.

With older children, the phrase “next time” maintains its value; just add a question mark at the end—inviting their input. “What will you do next time?” or “What can you say next time so that doesn't happen?”  Convey with your tone and your language that things can be fixed. Create a dialogue and keep the focus on solutions and future improvement. Griffin elaborates, “Focusing on 'next time,' of course, does more than help a child feel better about himself. It serves as a review and a preparation and is thus real teaching.” Hard to argue with that.