Adrian Landeros

Adrian Landeros gives his daughter Sofia positive feedback at a Children’s Project event in April 2019.

The beginning of the school year is here! Kids (and parents) hope they like their teachers, teachers hope they get a class that gels, and everyone hopes things go smoothly. Let’s capture that warmth and positivity and keep it going! In fact, a 2019 Harvard study found that the positive effects of parental warmth across psychological, emotional and social well-being continue into mid-life and probably beyond.

With the aim of warmth and expectations of success as a foundation of kids’ social and emotional wellbeing, here are some thoughts about what to say and what not to say to your little (and not so little) loved ones. No one expects parenting perfection—I angst about my parenting moves pretty much constantly—but I hope it helps to reflect on these and how they relate to how you talk with the children in your life.

What to say: You are important and very valuable. I’m so glad you are my daughter/son/neighbor/student.

What not to say: We will see how you do this year.

What to say: You can always change; sometimes you have to unlearn something to relearn something else. I have faith in you. You are in charge of you. What’s the first step you can take?

What not to say: You’ll never be good at that. You’re always bad like that. You’ll never change.

What to say: That’s not like you; I know you are a caring person. What can you do to make this situation better?

What not to say: You’re so mean and irresponsible.

When you talk, kids are listening even if you think they aren’t. Please, no put downs, only lift ups. Try saying to your child what you hope she says to herself.

What to say: It’s time to go.

What not to say: I’ll leave you here if you don’t come now.

Threats can scare kids into compliance, but compliance in response to fear takes a serious toll on your relationship and the strength and health of that relationship is what your child’s social and emotional skills are built on. If you won’t actually do what you are threatening, don’t say it. Getting her to the car or out the door right now isn’t worth the potentially soul-shaking idea that you would leave her behind.

What to say: I wonder what would happen if you….

What not to say: I can help. Do it this way.

When your child is getting frustrated because something won’t work or comply with what he wants, it is SO tempting to jump in and solve the problem for them. It takes parenting patience not to do it. It takes creativity and problem-solving to figure out what question we can ask the child that allows him to get one step closer to solving the problem himself. “What if the blue block went on the bottom of the stack?” “I wonder what would happen if you had a snack before you did your homework?” “Might it help if you got together with a classmate to study for the test?”

Best to all of Carpinteria’s children, parents and teachers this school year! May we wrap our arms around children and watch them glow in the warmth we know will help them be successful now and in their adult lives. We invite all to join us for parenting classes in English or Spanish this fall. So many parents find our “parenting professional development” and problem solving with other parents helpful—I wish I had had these classes when my boys were young. To learn more, check out Carpinteria Children’s Project’s Facebook page,, or call (805) 566-1619.

Maria Chesley, PhD, is an educator and leader who believes in the power of communities to change lives. She is the executive director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP). CCP provides early childhood education, family support services and leadership of the Thrive Carpinteria Partner Network of early education and social service providers. Learn more at Maria can be reached at or (805) 566-1600.

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