The Damaging Sentence I Will Stop Saying to My Kids

Welcome Autumn, I missed you.


Is anyone else surprised that the leaves are changing “already”. I am. This is the time of year that change in nature is physically evident and I get antsy about changing things in my own life.

One of those things I want to change is the way I word things, especially when it comes to parenting. A potentially damaging sentence I say a LOT is,

“What’s your problem??”20160528_125716

Every time I say it, I cringe. But, seriously, it is the first thing that runs through my mind in a lot of situations.

Hunter is chewing on a Lego- What’s his problem?

Izzy is grumpy because she wanted blue food instead of yellow food- What’s her problem?

Hunter decides that wrestling Izzy near the stairs is a good idea- What’s his problem?

The kids find fallen snacks on the car floor and EAT IT- What’s their problem? (Cuz, seriously! Why would that gross dirt-covered fruit snack look appealing? Why?!)

I don’t want to shout it at them anymore though and here is why:

1. It Immediately Puts Everyone in a Worse Mood.

If the kids were in a good mood, now they aren’t and that’s thanks to me. If they were complaining and I say, “I don’t know why you’re complaining about that, what’s your problem?”  I  have added insult to injury and now they are in a terrifically worse mood. There is nothing like challenging a person to make them feel worse about themselves and their decisions.

2. It Makes Them Confrontational.

“What’s YOUR problem?” is their natural response. The kids, naturally, want to challenge me back. Often, my daughter will say, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore, you must be in a bad mood.” This is entirely valid. Even if I have said, “What’s your problem?” in a conversational tone, it is a very aggressive sounding sentence and I don’t blame my daughter for walking away. It makes both kids want to challenge me and brings out their instant “fight” responses.

3. Wait, I Have a Problem?

I could say, “Why does it upset you?” or “Why did you feel the need to question that?” or “How could you word that sentence differently to ask for a solution?” but instead I shout, “Just do it! What’s your problem?”

The word ‘problem’ is a problem in itself. When I say it, the kids feel that they are a problem child, that they have more problems than other kids or that they are creating problems for me. They feel as if I have called them bad kids or stupid kids (because if they were smart they would be solving the problem or not creating one). This sentence is equivalent to, “What’s wrong with you?” which implies that I see my kids as something to be ‘fixed’. (I’m also working on saying ‘What’s wrong with you?’ less or not at all.)

All of these issues with this sentence become apparent when the kids shout angry or defensive sentences back to me, or if I notice my daughter and son get visibly upset and leave, resulting in a revealing talk afterward. Both of my kids are incredibly articulate and like to talk it out when we are all calm. I have learned a lot from them.


I have learned there are alternatives I could be saying and I will try to say them from now on. However, I am not perfect and it comes out sometimes anyway, especially when the kids are doing something really weird. I have asked them to keep me accountable. Now, both of them are aware they can call me on it, and they do! I see our family as a team and I like that the kids can be as involved in my growth as I am in theirs. I remind them that adults make mistakes too and that I am always willing to listen and learn. I am not perfect, and this goal will be incredibly hard for me (!), but I have two amazing little human beings to help me out.


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