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3 little words: on saying less and meaning more at drop-off time

by Sarah Powers on September 4, 2013

This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Home contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger at Powers of Mine

3lw I love you

What did you say when you saw your kids out the door this morning? When they climbed onto the bus or out of the car, when they loped across the school yard with a backpack half their own size? What were your parting words?

I think mine were something like this: Bye! Love you! Oh, wait – c’mere – let me wipe your face. Okay, bye! Have a great day! Drink lots of water! See you at 2:00! Oh! Don’t forget to take that form thingy into the office please – otherwise you’ll be on the only one in your class who doesn’t have a school spirit shirt. Love you!

I’m a mom of many words. I talk a lot – to my kids and with my kids. It’s perhaps both a strength and a weakness in my parenting. On the one hand, I’m great at explaining things, working through new ideas and tough situations with words, giving names to things they don’t understand, playing with words in rhymes and songs and jokes, helping them find words to explain how they feel. And when they talk, I’m a pretty good listener, because as a talker myself I know the value of someone who really listens to what I have to say.

On the other hand, in parenting and life, sometimes less is more. And it’s become increasingly apparent that my kindergarten dropoff valediction needs some ruthless editing. Our school has a drive-through dropoff line aided by parent volunteers who open the door, help each child out of the car and into their backpack, and send them off through front gates of the school. It’s a well-run system and it happens fast. No lingering hugs, even for new kindergarteners like my own. Wham, bam, thank you mom.

All this has me thinking: if I had to say one thing (instead of fourteen) as my daughter leaves for the day, what would it be? 

3lw be your best

When my siblings and I were kids, my mom used to say to us: Be your best! I remember her explaining later that this was a conscious choice. For her it meant being the best versions of ourselves, as opposed to a more achievement-oriented “Do your best.” Of course this is just semantics, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting (or telling) our kids to do their best, but I have always appreciated knowing what the difference meant to her.

Three little words, chosen carefully, repeated often. And I remember them well.

When you think about it, so much of what we say to our kids comes in these bite-sized three-word phrases.

From the instructional…

  • Clean your room
  • Wash your hands
  • Please don’t whine
  • Tie your shoes
  • We don’t hit
  • Shut the door
  • Use your manners
  • Comb your hair

3lw believe in yourself

…to the inspirational

  • I love you
  • You are enough
  • Believe in yourself
  • Follow your dreams
  • Find your path
  • It gets better
  • I trust you
  • Live your life
  • Try your best
  • Give your all
  • Trust your gut
  • Open your heart

3lw find your passion As things ramp up this school year – with more permissions slips to sign, show-and-tells to remember, and with them the temptation to turn the drop-off line into a logistics meeting – I’m going to scale back. All the way back to three little words.

Maybe in time I’ll find my own three-word phrase that my kids will hear echoed in their footsteps as they march confidently (or cautiously) in the direction of their dreams. But for now I’m starting with the very basics: the only three words my kindergartener really needs to hear when she heads off to school: I love you.

the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice -Peggy O'Mara

I would love to hear from you. What did you say this morning when the kids went off to school? Do you have a short phrase you always say to encourage your children? Can you help me come up with more #3littlewords phrases? If we can build a good list I’ll whip up some more of these cute green apples and share the album on our Facebook page to spread the positive messages!

Want more ideas
for creating a happier home life?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara September 4, 2013 at 9:29 am

One of the best I’ve heard is actually 4 words…Remember who you are. A coworker told me about it several years so and I’ve always kept it in mind.


Sarah Powers September 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Oh, that’s lovely, Sara – totally worth the extra word. ;) Love it. Thanks for sharing!


Veronica Schmitt September 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

Love this so much.
Trying to get a photo to you of the list my husbands grandfather carried around with him.
Three Words to Remember
I’ll be there
I love you
There’s no charge
And in conclusion
Maybe you’re right
Your heart knows
Learn to listen
Just do it
Where’s the beef? (LOL!)


Sarah Powers September 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Oh my goodness, Veronica, what a treasure this is! Thanks for sharing – I love that you and your husband have access to that list. Amazing.


Tragic Sandwich September 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I always say the same thing to Baguette: “You’re going to have a good day. You’re going to play games, and read books, and sing songs, and see all your friends. Daddy will pick you up like always, and you’ll see Mommy at home.”

And I know it means something to her, because one evening, not too long ago, she suddenly said, “This is in my head. Daddy pick you up always. See Mommy home. This is in my head.”


Sarah Powers September 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm

That is SO unbelievably sweet. I love it. Thanks for sharing!


Shana September 5, 2013 at 7:17 am

This brought tears to my eyes. Love it.


Tragic Sandwich September 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I got all teary at the time!


Mike September 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm

You made me cry…again. Thank you.


Cory September 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Me too!


Kristy September 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Love this post, Sarah. It made me think of this seen from The Odd Life of Timothy Green. :)


Heather Novak September 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm

FABULOUS: Mama needed this today.thank you, humbly.


Sarah Powers September 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thank you, Heather!


Alecia @ Hoobing Family Adventures September 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Love this post. I always say, ” I love you.” But now I’m going to add, “Be your best.” Thanks!


Sarah Powers September 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thanks, Alecia! :)


Kirsetin September 4, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Beautiful, Sarah, and spot on. I could use some verbal editing myself–thanks for the awesome reminder!


Sarah Powers September 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thanks, K. xo


Alice September 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Never ever under any circumstances, say cruel mean words to them – or to anyone else. I love you came very natural to say to my kids – but I was careful not to give them over the top affirmations too. I feel that is just as damaging as calling them names. What happens when they go out into the real world and they find out they aren’t the only princess or the best in everything! It’s most important that our children are told, God is good all of the time and to trust in that! God bless us all – it’s the hardest job and most important job


Sarah Powers September 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Well said, Alice. Thanks for reading and commenting!


Patty September 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm

As my children got older and went to middle school, high school, college, and beyond, I always reminded them to, “Trust your instincts,” which for us meant, “If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.”


Shana September 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

Every morning before he left for work (and after having both my mom and I pick from one of two tie choices – we always picked opposite ones, lol) my Dad would give me a kiss goodbye and say “make somebody smile today.” My dad was all about spreading kindness and compassion – the exact same qualities that attracted me to my husband. Our words are powerful. Loved this post – thank you.


Lulu September 5, 2013 at 8:48 am

Thanks for sharing : )


erica @ expatria, baby September 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

Beautiful, Sarah! We’re going through some pre-school drop-off angst right now, and I’m thinking that a little linguistic ritual might be a nice little touch stone in our mornings.


Betzy Elifrits Warren September 5, 2013 at 10:17 pm

My mom always used to say, “Work hard and be happy,” and sometime in high school or college, I came up with my own: “Have fun and be safe.” But I imagine that when my little one is old enough, in a couple more years, I’ll be ready to settle with just, “I love you.” And then I’ll cry all the way home…for the first month, or so… ;) Thanks for this post.


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