Apparently, a strong-willed child (I parent one) needs their soft underbelly affirmed five times for each critique. When I am closing in on a ten on my grumbliest scale, it is easy to let fly with, “YOU ARE SO NOISY… KEEP IT DOWN!” However, my calmer moments tell me that the 0:1 compliment-to-critique ratio is not what the parenting experts advocate.

So, garbed in my proverbial paternal lab coat, my eldest became a test subject. “I love that you are strong, confident and assertive and that you can voice what you want; however, your noisy voice is about to make my head explode.” This 4:1 compliment-to-critique ratio is closer to the parenting ideal. Thank you, Peter Janetzki, for sharing your wisdom – this smart parenting teacher is worth looking up.


Miss 8 plays soccer. She also draws. I hit a few sporting career high points a while back, and I sketch from time to time. Therefore, my noggin crafted the notion that it is important to hand over some soccer and drawing affirmations. It made sense to describe my daughter’s sport or artwork as “great” or some such superlative. However, I didn’t see that my words might set an expectation that all her efforts must be great.

According to a parenting whizz who quizzed a heap of students, the post-game words that children most love to hear from mum and dad are, “I love to watch you play!” I tried it, embellished with a hug, and it worked! My daughter just beamed. It is pretty much the same for spectating your musical child – “I love to listen to you play!” Or, for admiring my daughter’s artwork – “I love that you draw!”

Acknowledge Feelings

My eldest qualifies as a teen even if, numerically, she isn’t quite over the line. As an adult, I can feel that her occasional outburst is loaded with emotion and light on logic. During such a flare-up, my own logic prompts me to gently press back with “take it down a notch” or the patronising “please take a few deep breaths.”

Instead, a parenting counsellor advised that I acknowledge the emotion rather than try to counter it. I wasn’t happy. My instinct was to try to cut over any emotional flashpoint. The suggestion to lead with “I can see that you are upset/angry/frustrated/sad/disappointed… what is happening for you?” didn’t feel natural. I tried it, and it did defuse the heat, even if it took two or three attempts. I now know to leave talk of consequences stemming from emotive behaviour for a later time when my home space is calm and rational again.

I am a word nerd and love discovering new combinations of words that can cleverly build my children up or gently soften their noise. I find myself wishing that I knew more of this when I started out as a parent.  Learning new dad techniques has become wonderfully addictive for the tenderness it infuses into my relationship with my daughters.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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