Two Important Phrases

Two Important PhrasesMy oldest, Graham, is four (and he’s awesome) and over the past few weeks, he’s said two things to me that I think aren’t just what four year olds need to hear; they’re what all people need to hear.

Here’s how it played out:

In general, Graham is a pretty good listener. He knows where the boundaries are and generally follows our set expectations. Even on the best of his days, there’s always the wild card at the end of the day–the time that could just go any number of ways–bed time. It’s easily of the toughest times for Graham to keep it together. We have a decent bedtime routine, and he knows the expectations for him once we’ve tucked him in, but it’s still tough. Each night, after we review his bedtime expectations, he’ll repeat them back to me

“Look at the stars (his nightlight), be quiet, be still, no getting out of bed.”

Everything but the last line (which was his addition to the list–one that get’s no arguments from me) is phrased positively and clearly reviewed, but he just can’t bring himself to consistently stay in bed when it’s time.

After a few days of unsuccessful attempts to get him to sleep quickly, he just nailed it. One of those things where you forget that you were worrying about it because he’s just taken care of business and nearly drifted off to sleep.

So, I peek in his room, inadvertently startle the little guy, and he’s looking right at me–half asleep, half awake–and I lean in and tell him that I’m proud of him for choosing to go to sleep so quickly. He smiles, asks for a hug, and as I’m leaving the room, he whispers for me to come back to tell him something. As I lean over to him, he says, “Can you tell mom what you said to me?”

Confused, I stumble through a few questions to figure out what he means until it dawns on me and I ask, “You want me to let mom know I told you that I was proud of you, don’t you?

And with the biggest smile on his face he nods with exaggeration and hugs me as tight as his four year old arms will allow. It’s sweet to know that he sees that his dad is proud of him, and as much as that seems to fill him up, I think it does more for me than for him.


Then there’s the other phrase.

A few nights later, Graham and I are circling around and around in conversation about something that ends up amounting to a “The adult gets to make the rule, not the four year old” situation, and I raised my voice as I conclude the conversation with some finality, again reviewing his bedtime expectations.

I’m really not one to get agitated. Ask my wife, ask the folks I work with–they’ll all tell you that I’m the last guy to raise my voice about anything. But here, I did.

Feeling a bit sheepish about it all, I went back in to check on him about ten minutes later, and he asks me to sit on the bed. When I do, he pulls on my arm to draw my head closer to his, and he whispers, “Dad, say you’re sorry.

And, of course, I do.

And in the sweet way that a child knows, he reaches up, hugs me, and offers a four year old’s restoration.


Not long after that, I begin to wonder how much good would be done if we made sure these phrases were said more often.

What if the 14 year olds in our school heard the same two phrases–I’m proud of you, I’m sorry–when the appropriate time came?

What if students could expect to see adults own mistakes and apologize, providing a glimpse of vulnerability that comes with growth through big and small challenges?

What if students knew that they would hear genuine praise from their teachers, more than what they receive in grades, so that they would know that there are people at school who are proud of what they’ve accomplished, proud of the risks they’ve taken, proud of the changes they’ve made or the character they’ve shown?

I can’t think of a thing that would be hurt by us giving this a try. As you move through the coming days, look for opportunities to speak into the lives of your students and situations where you may need to, in humility, embrace a misstep you may have made while serving others.

5 Replies to “Two Important Phrases”

  1. These two phrases are powerful because they tell of a relationship. When we, in sincerity and in humility, communicate with students in this way, we speak to them personally. It’s funny, but though we long to hear those phrases ourselves, we sometimes are reluctant, stubborn or willfully ignorant and choose not to incorporate them into our own practice. What doors we could open! Thank you for the important reminder and insightful lesson. I will try to incorporate at least one of these today.

    1. I think you’re right. That relational component is hampered when we expect others to say what we’re unwilling to say–especially when it’s something vulnerable we want to hear.

  2. Aaron —

    Those exchanges remind me of conversations with my own kids — specifically my son, who’s six right now. He has such a good heart — like Graham does. These are the kinds of conversations every kid needs to hear, whether our own kids or kids in our classes. Thanks for sharing that post.

    1. Thanks, Matt. I appreciate you sharing that, and I think you’re right–The more kids who hear those words, the better.

  3. Dawn Wohling says:

    I had to utter these words just the other day to a class of difficult fifth grade students. I am like you…..I never raise my voice, but in a moment of frustration I did. I felt so terrible as I don’t believe anyone deserves to be yelled at and when I had class the next day I shared my feelings with my students and told them how very sorry I was. My students accepted my apology and said to me me….” Mrs. Wohling, we are the ones who should be sorry, you didn’t do anything wrong…” I told them again that no one deserves to be yelled at and that I would try very hard not to do it again. There were tears between the students and me and it was a beautiful moment. 🙂 I feel that we should always say these things to our students! Thanks for sharing this heartfelt story……:)

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