Teaching Instead of Preaching


 I recently heard a talk by a local pediatrician and something he said really stuck with me.  “Rather than tell a child that something is right or wrong try presenting it as a healthy or an unhealthy choice.” Genius!

Discussing healthy life decisions with dad.

I feel that many times children make bad decisions because the parents are so adamant about that decision being the WRONG option! Think about it, when your mom or dad said, “This is right and this is wrong.” didn’t the “wrong” option hold so much more appeal than the “right” option simply because it was WRONG?

As a parent I obviously want my child to make good decisions. I also want him to know why I think something is a good or bad decision. I want him to understand more than just “right or wrong” and to be able to make healthy decisions for himself one day. And as hard as this is to admit, I want him to be armed with the proper knowledge and have the freedom from parental guilt so that he can decide what he thinks is a healthy or unhealthy decision.

I feel that the opportunity for some great discussion can be lost when a choice is presented as “right or wrong” and that the “healthy or unhealthy” concept can open that discussion window between parent and child. It may not be the amazing bonding experience that I envision and some topics might still be super uncomfortable, but I will feel better knowing that I am teaching my child rather than preaching to him.

How have you handled talking to your child or children about certain tough topics? Sex? Drugs? Seat belts? Certain activities? Certain habits? Food?



  1. Love this! I’ve caught myself lately telling my daughter, “You can’t…” a lot. Even though I explain why, I like trying more positive ways of communicating and empowering her with options. I love the idea of telling her: That’s unhealthy, but here are some healthy alternatives. Thanks for posting this!

  2. This is great, Kathleen. I have often worked with families (as a child & family mental health professional) around how our language can empower or disempower kids and impact our dynamic with them. I love the “healthy vs. unhealthy” idea! Also, my toddler twins are starting some (normal) tantruming and hitting or yelling when they have a feeling or want something the other wants. We use a couple of key phrases: “Please be gentle” or “Be kind to ____” instead of “NO HITTING!” (so far this works and they stop hitting and pet the other one!) and ” That’s not safe” when they do things like try to suck on a power cord or climb on a table. I think of the three rules we used to have at a camp I worked at for kids with mental health issues: Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Have Fun:). Instead of “no” or things being “right vs. wrong”, it emphasizes safety and respect. Health is a similar concept!


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