Parenting in Slogans

Children have difficulty listening sometimes. You may have noticed.

It’s not just that they don’t want to listen (though this is often true). It’s not just that they’re easily distracted (though this can also be the case). It’s not just that they spend too much time in front of their technologies (though there’s a bunch of evidence to suggest that this plays a role). It’s also that their brains really don’t process language and logic in the ways that adult brains do. They actually do physiologically have a harder time listening and following what you’re saying.

There are lots of techniques for helping children with this. It helps to speak simply. It helps to rephrase information in different ways. It helps to reinforce messages several times. It helps to have them repeat key ideas back to you. It helps to prompt them with questions so that they have to think through the information themselves. These things (and many others) can make it easier for kids to understand and retain what you’re trying to tell them. They build a kid’s capacity to listen.

One technique that I use a lot is something I call “the slogan”. The idea is that we work on a concept to address a particular problem using some of the approaches that I listed above, and then we attach these things to a simple, memorable, usually humorous phrase that we can use when the situation arises. It’s a way of quickly reminding the child about the whole set of conversations we’ve had about this in the past.

For example, my youngest children are dare devils. They’ll climb anything, jump off anything, risk anything – dare devils. Over the years we’ve had lots of conversations about this. We’ve talked about how they need to think about what might happen before they do it. We’ve talked about asking an adult’s opinion about whether or not something is safe. We’ve talked about wearing proper safety equipment. We’ve talked about having people around to help if something goes wrong. We’ve also outright forbidden some activities. All this goes under the slogan, “Trying not die.”

So, when I come outside and they’re building a precarious structure in order to get a ball off the garage roof, and I don’t have time to go through the whole conversation, I throw the slogan at them – “Guys, remember, trying not to die!” and they can understand quickly, in short form, the whole pack of ideas that go along with it. They may complain. They may even disobey. But they’re able at least to listen and understand.

I use it for all kinds of things, even fairly simple ones:

“Sample means one” is the slogan for “Make sure you’re sharing and leaving enough for other people.”

“Easy and cool, level and steady” is the slogan for “Don’t let your emotions make you do something crazy.”


“Every day is underwear day” is the slogan for, well, for wearing underwear, which is a bigger problem than I could ever have imagined before I had kids.


This approach doesn’t always work. They’re still kids. Sometimes they still don’t want to listen. Sometimes they still get distracted. More often than not, however, the slogan gets their attention and communicates quickly in a way that other conversations wouldn’t, particularly in stressful situations. It’s a handy tool for your parental belt.