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Fighting Words vs. Thinking Words

Many who have not seen the ‘light’ think that setting limits is mainly barking commands. And a lot think that the meaner and bigger the voice is, and the more frequent the commands are repeated, then limits are tightened. This sergeant type of parenting is setting up future fights at home when children are big enough to realize that they have a free choice in everything. (Future blog: See Types of Parenting)

Setting Limits

Setting limits is one of the components of discipline. According to psychologists Dr Foster Cline and Jim Fay, kids seem most secure around parents who are strong, who don’t allow the limits they place on their kids to crumble. Children who are blessed enough to grow in firm, loving and predictable environments- with limits set and enforced consistently- become secure enough to develop self- confidence. These children will, later on, build successful and loving relationships. They are more open to learning, spend less time misbehaving and will grow up thinking critically about making responsible choices.

When we don’t provide firm limits and enforce them inconsistently, our kids suffer from low-esteem. Children will eventually feel resentful towards parents who can’t stick with the limits they imposed, or those who preach and act otherwise. Those who keep testing the rules and misbehave without having to face reasonable consequences become brats. And brats behave accordingly.

Let’s take a look at thinking words and fighting words and see what’s in it for us when we shift our words and most importantly our perspective.

Fighting Words: Sit down now, we’re going to eat!

Thinking Words: We will eat as soon as you’re ready.

You still want to play? I know playing is fun, I’ll give you 5 minutes.


Fighting Words: No! Finish your food! I cooked it; I’m even so tired!

Thinking Words: We can play when you finish your last bite okay? Do you want to play with the (favorite toy) or watch this? Oh, I’m so excited!

Are you full? You don’t have to play with your food. Tell mommy, 'I’m done!'

Are you full/ all done? How many scoops do you like, 3 or 2? Okay, as soon as we finish, we can play!


Fighting Words: No! Talk to me nicely, stop shouting!

Thinking Words: It’s hard to listen if you talk that way.

I want to listen to you, but you are shouting.

We can talk when you’re ready to talk nicely.

I’ll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as Daddy’s.


Fighting Words: I told you to clean your room! How many times do I have to repeat myself?

Thinking Words: You can play your video game/ watch when you’re done cleaning, okay?

You’re not ready to clean yet? Okay, then just watch or play later when you’re done.


Fighting Words: No, don’t do that! Stop fighting with your baby brother! Share your toys!

Thinking Words: I think your baby brother is not happy, see, he is crying. If mommy grabs your toy or throws the toy at you, is it okay? No, right?

Can we try to play like this? Your turn first, then baby’s turn. That’s right, great sharing!


Fighting Words: Am I going to pack away again? I always pick up after you, go clean up now!

Thinking Words: How about we pack away together? First, my turn, shoot the toy, yes! Okay, your turn now.

Let’s have a race?

I think the toys are tired, shall we put them back?


As you can see above, thinking words usually are very personal- they start with ‘I’ (you!). They also offer limited choices and are reasonable. Ensure that the choices and words used are age- appropriate. If your child is too young, say 2-3-year-olds, then use the simplest words. (See When Talking Through is Not Yet Possible) When your child can talk more, let the answers come from them so you can hold them to their words and, in turn, they will feel accountable.

Fighting words, on the other end, will tell our child what we want them to do, what they should not do, or what we definitely won’t do for them. A lot of the fighting words have that shortest, yet biggest fighting word in your battle- ‘No!’. I know we find ourselves saying this way too often, or even ‘Stop that!’, ‘Don’t do that!’. Our kids will tire of hearing it soon and will even dismiss it as something not serious.

The rule of ‘No’ is to say it sparingly when we really mean business. Go say yes, and tell them what they can do. Let them think of their own choice. See here: No, you cannot watch Ipad! Pack away your toys! Instead, we can say, ‘Yes, sure, you can watch after your pack away your toys!’.

When giving out these commands, we need to be ready for disobedience- which not a lot of us are! We even tend to escalate things by putting that scary, big voice or worse, spanking, in some cases. Not a good sight, and absolutely not helpful for our children. These will only show that we are angry because they don’t follow us, instead of them learning the purpose of our requests (which is for their good). Why not do away with these, save the battle we cannot win, and let parenting be easier and more meaningful for both your child and yourself?

When they still won’t do it, here’s what you can say, ‘I’m sorry you made the wrong choice. Daddy will just have to wait when you’re ready. Daddy’s a little bit sad. I hope you can think of the better choice.’

No need to say, ‘So you really won’t follow/ listen? Okay, go to your room now!’ or offer some form of punishment or deprivation.

When we use thinking, feeling words, our children will have little time to ‘fight’, and have more time to think about the choices you offered them, or the consequences they will go through if they make their own choice!

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