Small & Sweet

Along with keeping your explanations short and sweet, it is also important to choose small words for small people i.e talk to their vocabulary.

Which of the following is easier to understand?

  • Ornithological species of identical plumage tend to congregate in closer proximity
  • Birds of a feather flock together

Likewise, when speaking to your child use words they understand. After all, they are children, not little adults.

Get the Sodium Bicarbonate, Please

One of the most difficult things for my seven year old to do is to find an item that I need from my basement pantry. If I ask him to go get me the Sodium Bicarbonate, I’d definitely be out of luck. I could ask him to go get me the Baking Soda – same thing – but I don’t know that he would understand that any better. Baking soda is likely still out of his comprehension unless he’s been baking with me a few times.

The best thing would be for me to ask him to get “the small orange box with the red circle on it. It’s smaller than a book and it’s on the top shelf.” That’s about as simple as I can get. And chances are he’d have an easy time getting the baking soda for me when I explain it to him that way. I’ve saved him the feeling of confusion and I’ve saved myself a few minutes of time.

Goldilocks Words

When we use language our children can’t understand, they might begin to feel foolish or even worse may start to think they are dumb.

Using words that your child doesn’t understand is like speaking to him in a foreign language. Don’t use words that are too big and likewise as children get older don’t use words that are too small.

If I told my 11 year old son to get me the Baking Soda, he would be able to do that. And if I asked him to get the small orange box with the red circle on it, he might think I’m being condescending. So choose your words wisely.

Recipe for Tool #8 :


  • Ability to listen to catch yourself using words that are too big for your child.
  • Creativity to adjust your language to your child’s level.
  • Desire to help your child succeed

Step 1 – Use the Right Words

Little kids understand small words. Medium sized kids understand slightly bigger words. Bigger kids can learn to use adult-like words.

Step 2 – Help them Learn

Set your child up for success by giving them words that they can understand. Rather than causing them confusion, patiently – and creatively – think how they will best understand what you are trying to tell them.

Step 3 – Repeat

Keep working at this and slowly, over time, give your child bigger words, one at a time. Teach them that the orange box with the red circle is baking soda. Then teach them that baking soda is Sodium Bicarbonate and tell them that if they can remember that, they can shock their science teacher one day (something all kids enjoy).

Set Up for Success

The next time your child is frustrated when you speak to them, ask them gently if they understand what you’re saying.

I find that having them repeat back what they thought I said is most effective.

Rather than increasing everyone’s frustration by using words that are above – or below – their comprehension, choose small, age-appropriate words and set both you and your child up for a win.


HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

Latest posts by HB (see all)