Use Your Words

16 Mar Use Your Words

How to Express Frustration Without Attacking Character, by Shelly MacDonald

I’ve written about engaging your child’s cooperation through:

1. Describing the problem: “I see shoes in the middle of the hallway.”
2. Giving information: “Shoes belong in the closet.”  and
3. Say it with a word:  “Shoes!”

Today, it’s all about YOU! Yes, you finally get some of the limelight.

Today’s skill for enlisting your child’s cooperation is…

4. Talk about YOUR feelings:

“I don’t like stepping over shoes in the middle of the hallway.”


“I worry that someone could trip and fall over these shoes.” 

or, if you’re becoming increasingly irritated and you have company about to arrive,

“I don’t like being ignored. I’m putting the shoes away and now you have a frustrated mother!” 

As always, it’s important to keep our comments and expectations age appropriate. We don’t want to burden or overwhelm our little ones with our big emotions.

Yet, there are times when sharing our authentic feelings in the moment can elicit our child’s cooperation.

Acknowledging our own feelings can also prevent bigger blow-ups later on (ie yelling).

Even if you don’t yell, stuffing negative feelings will often cause them to leak out through sarcasm (which just feels mean) and criticism.

Pretending to be more patient than we actually feel often ends badly. We eventually “lose it” with our child and instead of learning a lesson, our child feels attacked.

The key is to remove blame and use “I” statements to share our feelings while avoiding criticism about our child’s character or personality.

Sharing our feelings in appropriate measure teaches our children that we are not endlessly patient and that we, too, experience the full range of human emotions. It also models for our children how to communicate and manage upset and anger in healthy ways.

Many parents report great relief and liberation in acknowledging their own feelings! Suddenly, their patience shoots up and they can see more clearly how to better handle the situation.

There’s a direct, positive correlation between acknowledging feelings (our own as well as our children’s) and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

A few words of caution:

While I recommend acknowledging our own negative feelings as much as possible, doing so out loud to your child too often can become overwhelming or just lose its effectiveness.

In other words, our moment in the limelight (stating our own upset) can be both memorable and impactful for engaging cooperation when used judiciously.

Finally, it’s equally important to be sensitive to your child’s temperament.

If statements such as, “I’m angry with you for hitting your sister.” or “I’m disappointed.” prove crushing or overly discouraging, then it’s best to just stick with stating your expectations.

A more helpful statement might be, “I expect you to be kind to your sister.”

As your virtual parenting coach, I expect all of us to find ways to be kinder to ourselves as well…

and it all starts with tuning in to our emotions.

I’d love to hear how this skill plays out in your family. Email me at

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These tips are based on the skill of engaging cooperation from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish. Image courtesy of Faber & Mazlish; illustration by Kimberly Ann Cole.


Shelly Macdonald is a Parent Educator and Coach who helps parents create a family life they truly love! She has worked directly with children and families in various capacities for over 20 years. Shelly currently teaches parenting workshops in NYC and coaches parents all over the world via phone/internet.