What you should use instead of “should”


Think about the last time that you used the word should. What did you say you should have done? How did you feel when you said it? We all use it, probably multiple times a day, but is it something we should be doing? And is it something you should let your kids be doing?

Life coaching focuses on unlocking the potential in your child and letting them view every day in a positive light. The word should goes directly against those principles. Here are five problems with using the word should and ways that we can deal with those problems.


Problem: Should is defeating

When you say you should have done something or you should have been better, you are focusing on the negatives. We know that every setback is an opportunity for growth, but saying should draws your attention away from that potential. It only lets you focus on the bad.


Alternative: Focus on growth

Instead of letting your child think about what they should have done, focus on what they can learn from their setback. Make sure they understand what happened, why it happened the way it did, and what they can do next time.


Problem: Should stops us from being accountable

When your child thinks that it should have gone differently, or they should be doing this, they are reinforcing that we are not doing it. “I should be studying for my test” is a way of saying “I’m not studying for my test”, without being accountable. “I should be waking up on time” is just a way of saying “I’m not waking up on time” without taking action to do so.


Alternative: Encourage accountability

Nobody wants to accept that they were wrong, especially children. When kids do not hold themselves accountable, they will blame others, ignore rules, and be less empathetic towards others. Encouraging accountability starts with the whole family, though, so start to develop a culture of accountability at home.


Problem: Should does not motivate

What was the last thing you told your child they should be doing? Odds are, their initial reaction was to do the exact opposite. Being told or telling yourself that you should be doing something does not motivate you, but makes you focus on what you are not doing. How can your child become motivated when they are consumed by what they are not doing?


Alternative: Use could and would

Should is a terrible motivator, but could and would are great motivators. Telling your child that “it would be great if they finished their homework” is a lot more motivating than “you should do your homework”. These words give a child a greater sense of freedom and are motivating as a result.


Problem: Should minimizes accomplishments

When your child focuses on the negatives and what they are not doing, they cannot focus on what they have already accomplished. When a kid thinks that they should have saved that one goal, they don’t think about the twenty other shots they saved. When they think about those two questions they should have remembered on the test, they don’t remember the eight others they got right.


Alternative: Reflect on accomplishments

Take your child’s focus away from what should have happened and be sure to reflect on their accomplishments. Reflecting is a great habit to get into, but reflecting on accomplishments is even better. Spend some time everyday with your child and ask them about what they accomplished that day. Make sure that part of their reflecting only focuses on accomplishments, then approach opportunities for growth afterwards.


Problem: Should is selfish

You would probably struggle to think of a time when you thought someone else should do something, and that something didn’t benefit you. Passively reinforcing a selfish attitude will create a disparity in what your child expects and what really happens. Worse, it will affect their social development and their ability to make meaningful connections with others.


Alternative: Encourage Empathy

When your child claims that someone they know should have done something, correct them immediately. Encourage them to look at the positives of the relationship they have with that person. Odds are, they are acting out of emotion rather than logic. Remind them that what they are saying isn’t what they are meaning and focus on how the other person might be feeling.


It might seem like a harmless word, but the vocabulary that children use can have a large impact on their development and the rest of their lives. While children can – and will – use should, these alternatives are great ways to encourage healthy habits and avoid the negatives associated with should.



A life coach does not tell your child to avoid the use of a word. When a child tells me that they should have done something, or a result should have been different, I use it as an opportunity to explain exactly what they mean, why they are thinking that way, and what we can do to maintain a positive, eager attitude.