Most parents do their best to be polite, build their child’s self-esteem, and give them confidence, but there are days when one can be overwhelmed with work commitments, frustration, and stress, and that’s when we lose our cool and say things we really shouldn’t. The occasional outburst does not permanently scar a child, but frequent criticism and damaging statements can have a long-term negative impact.
Some days we all wish we could take back the words we say. Things we say can leave children feeling hurt, angry, and confused. Also, what comes out of your mouth may eventually come out of your child’s mouth, creating a whole new set of problems.
Here are four of the most commonly used negative phrases:
- “Why can’t you be more like…”
- “I’m busy…”
- “You are so…”
So how can we change those negative phrases into positives that help us communicate better with our young children?
“Don’t cry” or “Don’t be a baby” or asking why a child is crying may not be interpreted by the child in the same way that we meant it. It’s natural to want to protect a child from such feelings, but at the same time for a toddler or a young child, it is hard to express themselves with words, so they express their feelings with actions and tears. The word “Don’t” doesn’t make a child feel better, and it also can send the message that his emotions aren’t valid and that it’s not okay to be sad or scared. Rather than denying that your child is feeling a particular way, acknowledge the emotion up front. By naming the real feelings that your child has, you’ll give him the words to express himself and you’ll show him what it means to be empathetic. Try, “I see that you’re upset about your lost toy.” or “It’s okay to be sad.” Ultimately, he’ll cry less and describe his emotions more instead.
“Why Can’t You Be More Like…” Comparison almost always backfires. Although it might seem like a good idea to hold a sibling or a friend as a shining example to encourage your child to be more like them, it doesn’t usually work out that way. Just like adults, children do not like to be compared. Children develop at their own pace and have their own temperament and personality. Comparing your child to someone else implies that you wish he or she were different. Making comparisons also won’t help if you’re trying to change your child’s behavior. Being pressured to do something your child is not ready for can be confusing to a child and can undermine his self-confidence. Comparing your child’s achievements to someone else’s reveals your disappointment in his success and can diminish any pride he feels in his accomplishment. Instead, encourage his current achievements by appreciating what he is doing well.
“You are so…” Name-calling is not an adult behavior. You should never call your child negative names and labels. Instead, explain what you don’t like about his behavior and why. You might forget that you introduced him as the “shy one” or said in front of him that he had “a mean streak” but your child may remember it and hold it in his heart. He may even come to believe it. Showing disappointment towards his mistakes only cuts deeper into him. A far better approach is to address the specific behavior and leave the adjectives about your child’s personality out of it.
“I’m busy, don’t bother me!” When you routinely tell your child, “Don’t bother me” or “I’m busy,” they internalize that message. They begin to think there is no point in talking to you because you are always brushing them off. If you set up that pattern when your children are small, then they may be less likely to tell you things as they get older. As hard as it is, making time for your children – real time – is the single most important thing you can do to have a positive impact on your child’s wellbeing. From infancy, children should get in the habit of seeing their parents as someone they can depend on. Someone they can always count on to take the time to listen to them and help them to solve their problems. If you find that your life is too busy to spend time with your children, consider making a change be it in your professional or personal life. Your children will thank you for it.
What are some key phrases your family tries to avoid and what positive phrases do you use instead?