Another Parenting Magic Word (And 7 Ways It Works)

“Your child’s feelings of security can be increased by continuing to tell her what is going to happen next. Knowing what will happen next gives her a feeling of control over her universe. In this way she isn’t continually surprised by events that occur. Rather, she has time to prepare for them. As you talk to her, predictability is reinforced verbally.” – Magda Gerber, Your Self-Confident Baby

In previous posts, I have shared the powerful benefits of Magda Gerber’s magic word wait. Another of Magda’s core recommendations that I’ve found to be magically effective is prepare.

We might experience the power of prepare by informing our two- week- old infant that we will pick her up, pausing for the moment she needs to take this in, then noticing her stiffening her body, readying herself to be lifted.

We might realize that our baby is more welcoming of grandpa’s firm hugs and grandma’s robust laughter when we’ve prepared her with these details before their visit. Or perhaps we discover that our toddler son willingly leaves the park, or actually enjoys going to the doctor or dentist when he knows the drill (painful pun not intended).

We might wonder if we’re being pranked when, for the first time ever, our toddler bounds into bed and drifts happily off to sleep, because tonight we tried talking him through his nighttime routine step by step in advance: When you are finished with your dinner, you’ll have some time to play. Then we’ll have bath time and then PJs. I’ll get the leg holes ready and you can jump into them! We’ll brush teeth together. Then you’ll choose two books for us to read. We’ll sing a song, say prayers, and then I’ll pick you up so you can turn off the light. Then I’ll give you the softest kiss and hug and we’ll say goodnight. You’ll have a lovely rest and I’ll look forward to seeing you in the morning.

When we take the time to prepare our child, we’re likely to note joyful recognition in her expression when her predictions about even the most mundane (to us) events come true. “I knew this would happen!”

Preparing our children…

Encourages them to actively participate in life and their relationship with us, feel included

Empowers, builds confidence and a sense of security, eases fear

Helps them accept and even look forward to new, challenging, uncomfortable or seemingly unpleasant situations and transitions

Teaches language organically and respectfully, because we’re using words that are authentic, pertinent, and meaningful to our babies

Enriches experiences, heightens learning

Builds connection, trust, the sense that we’re in this together 

Paves the way for cooperation and success

Gina shared a story that illustrates…

Hi Janet,

Thank you so much for everything you have taught me about parenting my child in a respectful manner. I have a question that might have a simple answer: Is it good to prepare a toddler with expectations?

I have a 13-month-old girl who is quite inquisitive, which I’m thrilled about. She, of course, wants to touch everything when we go out. Today we were at a coffee shop which was selling mugs and other breakable things. As we walked in, I got down on her level and said, “There are many things in here that could break if you touch them. You can look at everything, but I will not let you touch them. If you touch things, I will stop you from doing so.” And with that, she went off to walk around as she pleased, touching only two or three things in the 90 minutes we were there. And she did not get upset when I physically stopped her from touching them. I wonder, though — am I disciplining her on the front end and stifling her curiosity, or am I setting expectations in a situation that might set her up for failure?

Again, thank you so much for showing me a different way to parent!

Best,

Gina

Hi Gina,

Not only is this good, it’s GREAT! And highly recommended. You are definitely not stifling your daughter’s curiosity (as you might be if you were directing or limiting her play). You are helping her to succeed in these situations, which is what both of you want her to do. Well done!

Warmly,

Janet

***

I share more magical parenting tools in my books:

 Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

(Photo by Esparta Palma on Flickr)

19 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. So very true! My son is no longer a toddler but now he has a habit to “rehash” the events of the day and asks me about tomorrow. Knowing what happens next prepares him and sets him up for success, even if the day does not actually happen according to plan.
    I recently tried this for dr. appointment where he needed to get an injection. Days leading to the appointment, I told him the detail of “what happens next” one by one, including the fact that he would get an injection and it would hurt but only for a short period of time (I gave him an example like accidentally bitting your lips/tongue — he seemed to understand as he had the same experience before). He asked questions, I answered them faithfully and truthfully. No crying, no bribing, he marched by himself and sat himself on the dr’s bench and voluntarily gave his leg for injection. Yes, he cried but it was so short and after he was feeling proud of himself (and I did too).

    1. avatar Christina says:

      wow, that is such an awesome story. well done for your son and also you for talking with him and explaining what would happen.

    2. Wonderful, Claire! I, too, have had those experiences many times with my 3 children. I am still in shock about them liking the dentist’s office. How I dreaded it when I was a child! Even though ours was called the Bar DK Ranch and designed to be “kid friendly”.

      A little respect and honesty go a very long way. And if one doesn’t believe young children can understand or handle honest, direct language, trying it will prove to them otherwise.

  2. avatar Jen Tejada says:

    Thank you for another great article, Janet. You certainly have a way of finding those things about parenting that really are great connecting and respectful tools to help! I remember once telling my daughter about how we were going into a toy store to buy a present for someone else for their birthday but that we wouldn’t be getting anything for her. She responded with “ok, but I really don’t want to go if I can’t have a toy. It’s so hard not to want a toy from that store.” I couldn’t believe it! Of course if I really had to I would have taken her, but I didn’t so I ended up leaving her with Dad and going alone. Since then, I have respected her wishes and we haven’t been to a toy store in so long! I should really take a page from her book actually. Thank you again for providing this resource to help me be a better parent. It’s always the refocus I need.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! All things taught to me by Magda, but just framed a little differently, perhaps.

      I love the story about your daughter. Her self-awareness and maturity are very impressive!

  3. I have found this by trial and error. By that I mean that I came to this conclusion slowly but surely and have found that it definitely does work. When life is really really busy and I am not focusing on the children as much as I should be I forget this and it makes life even harder (as if the busyness wasn’t enough). I have also found that if I something doesn’t happen that they were expecting to and I had an inkling it wouldn’t happen, I build this into the preparation and they are never disappointed! Thank you for the gentle reminder.

  4. This is a great post, Janet.
    I teach Simplicity Parenting classes in Portland, Oregon and in my classes we talk about the importance of Rhythm & Predictability, which are basically different ways to talk about Prepare. One quote that I love is “There are no ‘bad’ children, just ‘disoriented’ children” (this is from Kim Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting); when we help our children to orient they know what to expect and what is expected from them!

    1. Yes, Magda Gerber talked a LOT about empowering children with predictable rountines and rituals. It is certainly understandable that the younger the child, the more he or she appreciates the familiar. Children grow and change so rapidly in these first years.

      Thanks so much for weighing in, Lisa. I love Simplicity Parenting!

  5. I try to prepare my son (16mo) before we change to the next activity by saying things like, “right now I’m cooking dinner and in a few minutes we’ll sit down, put your bib on and eat.” Or, “I think your diaper needs a change. I’ll go get the diaper basket and meet you on the mat.” In both scenarios, he goes running the opposite direction. He also loves to go outside and if I ask him if he’d like to play outside, he goes to the door. If, instead, I say, “it’s cold outside so we have to get a jacket and hat on and then we will go outside” he runs away from me again. I’ve tried to wait him out, but I seem to be the loser in that game. I would love some advice!

    1. Christa – the dinner and diaper examples are typical toddler testing. He’s expressing his will, as he should at this age. I would handle each of those situations slightly differently. For the first example, I would say, “I am cooking your dinner. In a few minutes it will be ready, and if you are hungry, you can sit with me, choose a bib that I will help you fasten, and then eat.” Then, confidently leave it up to your boy to decide he wants to eat… no pressure at all. But if he does want to eat, he must sit and wear a bib. We really can trust children to eat when they’re hungry.

      With the diaper example, he might also need more autonomy, which you can offer him with a choice, “I think your diaper needs a change… Would you like to do it now, or after you play for 5 more minutes?” Then, let’s say he wants to wait… After five minutes, you might offer, “Okay, now it’s time for us to change your diaper. Will you be walking to the table, or do you want me to carry you?” If he says no to either… Okay, then, I’m going to pick you up and we’ll go.” The key is not to fear his resistance. The toddler years are a time for resistance and, again, this is healthy, healthy, healthy. You are going to disagree often, and when that happens, just accept and acknowledge, “You don’t want to change your diaper right now. I hear you! But it’s time. I hear you saying no, no, no.”

      1. Thank you for the thorough reply! I will try your tips and continue to try to keep my cool.

  6. I’m so grateful for learning about PREPARE when my little one was just born. I would tell him when I was about to pick him up, when I was going to put him down, where we were going next. I taught my husband to do the same. He was amazed to learn that we can show such respect to an infant and I think over the past two years it has had such a great impact on our son. We give him an hour’s notice if we are going to the doctor’s office or the barber shop, and now he has time to process it and actually looks forward to going to these formerly scary places. He is also old enough now that at the end of the day I talk about some of the highlights of that day, and he smiles and gets excited about his memories, big and small.

  7. Hello Janet and other parents,

    I have a very sensitive issue with my parenting and my 3 year old son.
    About 2 years ago, I left my abusive husband with my 1year old (same one as listed above who is now 3) we have had several issues the father and I especially because I have a restraining order against him. We have also been going back and forth to court over this time where as it was last state in court that I the mother would have our boy for 10days then the father (whom I do not have any contact with other than when we do exchanges at a police station and the conversation is controlled for my best interest as well as the child) then the father has our boy for 4 days then I get him for 10 and so on so forth. My concerns are many but my biggest concern is that because I have a new partner on which we have a new baby girl who is 16 weeks and everything is adjusting really well, we just bought a house, getting married all of these exciting new things that family work hard for and as expected it feels like home and everyone is happy here. My new partner has been involved in the last 5 years of my life so birth of my son, leaving the abusive husband, having a new baby… Ect… My son has always called my new partner by his name and has always taken a liking to him even when he goes to his dad’s my son comes home and is great full and happy to see his step dad and greet him by his name. This last week has been extremely noticeably different he has Been calling step dad “dad” and before he would sort of do it but now he doesn’t even call him by his first name at all. I of course am touched by these little things but because this last week that’s all he says is “dad dad dad dad and mom mom mom mom” I feel this is a good thing but at the same time now he is telling me he does not want to go to his bio dad’s house anymore. Like I said there has been lots of changes to our new family lately and I’m glad that my son has a sense of stability at our new house with his new sister and calling his step dad dad, but this also concerns me because how fast it happened. It worries me also because I can not speak to the father about any of these changes (despite he fact that I have it in court orders that we have to talk about anything and everything to do with he positive development of our son his father has a serious hatred towards me and the step dad (no surprise really)). What I’m asking for is some advice or insight to see what’s caused this change with calling step dad, dad and should I be concerned about him going to his dad’s house (even though I already am especially when my son comes back and tells me how mad and cross his dad is) because he is only 3 I really need some help. any suggestions, advise, comments it’s all helpful in the end.

    Thanks everyone
    Moemonty@live.ca

  8. Great post, Janet! Preparing your child is such an important step in acclimating them with life. I have found that it’s important not to over-prepare them though because if they are prepared too much and expect the same routine, change or an unexpected event can be really hard for them. As parents, it’s important to prepare ourselves too.

  9. avatar Wendy Lim says:

    Hi Janet,

    As much as I would like to embark in this style of parenting, I have a big question. I don’t think my 23mo will understand whatever I say if I start talking to her. She is still a bit slow in picking language and she only can speak very limited words now. How should I start then?

    1. You’re daughter will be able to understand FAR more than she can verbalize. The more you talk to her and expect her to understand the more quickly she’ll begin to if she doesn’t already.

  10. avatar Vicki Burgess says:

    The guidance instructor for Early Childhood Education taught her students about what she calls, One Finger Touch! Young children are so sensory oriented. Touching is how they learn about their world. I have utilized this with my grandchildren, and my grandgirl, now 10 years old will ask, “Can I touch this?” And if I say no, she’ll ask, “Not even a one finger touch?” Since she was a baby, I’ve showed her to use one finger to gently touch something she is curious about. My husband doesn’t like it when it comes to his very nice objects. But she has never broken anything and her behavior in shops with delicate items is respectable. One Finger Touch works! The child understands it is a gentle finger that touches the object (not picking it up), and then stops!

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