Allison LaTona, M.F.T.
Psychotherapist | Parenting Coach + Educator

Parenting Groups | Los Angeles, CA | Allison LaTona, M.F.T.

Purposeful language helps make sense of a child’s experience, validate feelings, build connection, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and language development

— rumi
...the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain…that develop skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives….
You could call it brain sculpting, or brain nourishing, or brain building. The point is crucial, and thrilling: as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.
— Daniel J. Siegel, MD

words matter

The words we choose carry a lot of weight. Their impact is layered with lasting potential. When chosen mindfully, a parent’s words have the power to convey understanding of where a child is in their development, as well as insight that behavior is communication and has meaning. Purposeful language can help a make sense of a child’s experience, validate their feelings, build emotional intelligence, create connection, build self-esteem and secure attachment, as well as foster language development. The semantics of language encapsulates and carries the emotional intention of our thoughts and is multi-faceted in its impact on our children.

Say What You See

The wisdom of the four simple words “Say What You See” guides parents to be reflective of a child’s experience with objectivity and validate their feelings leading to connection in relationship. It steers parents to narrate their child’s process without judgment, set respectful limits, and give appropriate praise that is concrete and specific, rather than general and evaluative. Utilizing this golden nugget of wisdom facilitates the growth of a child’s internal locus of control and intrinsic motivation, as they learn to trust their themselves more deeply.

When a parent asks “What do I say or do?”…
The answer is often: “Say What You See”…


You’re having BIG feelings
You had a different plan
Your idea was... and my idea was... That’s frustrating for you
You are a girl/boy who can do hard things
You are the boss of your body
You did it!
You must feel proud!
It’s sooo... hard to wait!
Sometimes the ‘sneaky’ pee or poo comes quick
Accidents are part of the learning
It seems like your body isn’t quite ready
It’s so hard to share mommy
I like how you put your thoughts together
You were really paying attention
You remember...
You are a girl/boy who makes friends wherever you go

Discipline is Teaching

In the midst of setting limits, the guidepost of “Say What You See” helps parents in stating the limit or reality, as well as in redirecting, problem solving and/or reassuring.

Given discipline is teaching, choosing words purposefully with focus on what the child can expect or, can do, versus what they cannot do will lend itself to more cooperation, positivity in the relationship, and increased effectiveness as a parent. Also choosing words that will prepare a child for what’s coming or what to expect can smooth the challenge of transitions.

The companion wisdom of “Say it in Six Words or less” guides parents to select only what the child needs to hear, versus long explanation, thereby creating more impact, an appropriate balance of power, and setting the child up for success. Too many words, especially in the midst of setting limits can dilute effectiveness as a parent. There is tremendous power in the pause after a short selective statement, rather than carrying on with rationale and lecture.


Looks like I need to help you manage your body
Looks like you are choosing daddy to decide
Looks like mommy needs to move you
Looks like I need to help you listen
Until you are able to stop yourself, I will continue to stop you
Looks like you are choosing the hard way…next time you can choose the easy way
The plan is...
You are using your ‘demanding’ voice…Can you use your ‘regular’ voice?
When your voice is as calm as mine, I am happy to help you
Mommy’s job is to keep you safe and healthy... your job is to... listen
The new plan is...
You can say “move” or “stop”, but I cannot let you hit
Next time I know you will make a better choice
This “no” is not going to turn into a “yes”
Always use: “When then...“   instead of   “If...then...”
The park is a sharing place
Toys are for playing
Sand is for shoveling
We don’t 'snatch' in our family... You can use your words
I won’t let you hurt my body
It sounds like you ‘wish’ you washed your hands…Let’s try again
Looks like we have something to take care of here…where’s the broom?”
School is not a place for mommies to stay, and mommy always comes back
Would you like a 'do-over'?
That is my final answer
I want to hear what you are telling me, and… it’s bedtime...I’ll hear it in the morning when I can give you the attention you deserve
The kitchen is closed
The rule is...
Mommy is all done talking right now
"Bye-bye" park, toys, blankie...
Treats are 'sometimes' foods
Our bodies need 'growing' foods
This is a 'grown-up' choice
You’re thinking about that lemonade…and want more…we will have it again one day!
That sounds like a weekend question
In our family, we honor our commitments
In our family, we don’t 'name-call'...that hurts others’ feelings
When someone gives you’s good manners to say "thank you"
Looks like you are choosing to skip… the park, books, etc
In our family, we are kind
"Last" song... "last" hug... "last" kiss…
"Night-night" trucks and shovels…"Night-night" moon and stars…

Social Emotional Development

In fostering emotional intelligence, “Say What You See” further guides a parent to validate feelings, help a child notice the social cues of another, set respectful limits, share realities without judgment, and give reassurance.


Friendship is about listening and taking turns with ideas
What part of your plan can Emma play?
Looks like he’s not all done with his turn
Looks like he’s waiting for a turn
What can we do while you wait for your turn?
Looks like there’s enough space for everyone
Looks like she’s not ready for a hug
You noticed she has a “big nose”. It’s not good manners to describe out-loud what someone looks like, as it can hurt their feelings…you can always tell me what you notice in private
It’s okay to have two feelings
Listen to what your tummy is telling you
People come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, but we are all the same on the inside
Families come together in different ways
That’s a word that can hurt people’s feelings
It’s okay for you to have your own ideas
If you are not all done with your turn, hold on tight
Let’s check on your friend. What does he need to feel better?
Looks like s/he needs more space
Are you available? (to play, to talk)
Mommies and daddies can have different ideas, and still love each other
Mommy used her BIG voice... I think I scared you and you didn’t like it... I didn’t either... I didn’t mean to scare you... I was frustrated, and I’m sorry
Mommy always comes back