Despite our good intentions behind the things we do or say to our children, mistakes are bound to occur throughout the course of our journey in parenting.
One of the most delicate areas involves the way we talk to our children – it can be so easy for our words to bring about feelings of hurt, anger or confusion to them without us realising it.
To help you nurture a positive parent-child relationship, we’ve compiled a checklist of the most commonly used phrases when we talk to our children, and suggestions for gentler alternatives to tackle the moment.
1. “You’re so…”
We tend to use labels to name the way our children behave – for example, “What you did to your brother was mean” or “You are so careless”. However, this could bring more harm than good as our children take our words to heart and they believe that they are exactly the way that we label them to be. Even labels that lean on the positive side (e.g. “smart” or “genius”) can place unnecessary or inappropriate expectations on your children’s capabilities. And who could ever forget the ones that cut the deepest, which involve labels such as “lazy” or “hopeless”.
What to say instead: Instead of labelling your children’s behavior at face value, it might be better to address and name the specific behavior without using adjectives that say a lot about their personality. For example, instead of referring to your child’s behaviour as “mean”, you could say something like, “Your friend probably felt hurt when you told her that she is not your friend anymore. What can you do to help her feel better?”
2. “Why can’t you be more like your brother/ sister?”
Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the United States, once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Similarly, while we tend to resort to comparing our children’s milestones or behavior with their siblings or friends to motivate them to do better, doing so actually brings a host of negative consequences to your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
Comparing your child to someone else sends across the message that his/ her best is not good enough and may lead him/ her to do something he/ she is not ready for, just so that your expectations can be met. On top of that, this could also work against you as your child resents you for comparing him/ her with another person, and resolves not to give in to your expectations.
What to say instead: Know that comparison is the worst form of motivation for your child and will not lead to the results you were hoping for. Instead, offer words of encouragement to acknowledge his/ her current achievements, such as, “You dressed up all by yourself today. Well done!” or “Your picture puzzle is almost complete – you are almost there!”. Not only will this help your child feel better about his/her abilities, it may double up as the confidence boost that he/she needed to hear from you all along.
3. “Leave me alone!”
Like everything else in life, parenting comes with trying moments which calls for a breather from our children – either to recharge our batteries or to attend to other important matters. In times like this, we may automatically utter words such as “I’m busy – leave me alone” without thinking twice about the consequences. However, experts such as Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin, founder of the Ozark Centre for Language Studies in the United States, says that brushing off your children in this manner too often could hurt the parent-child relationship, as they feel that there is no point in talking to you.
What to say instead: The key to managing the times when you are rushing to get things done (or when you simply need a short break) is to keep the lines of communication open and offer something for your children to look forward to after that. For example, you can say something like, “Mummy needs some time to wash the dishes, so I need you to draw this picture quietly for a few minutes. We can go to the park for some fun once I am done.”
Having said that, do remember to be realistic when it comes to setting your “time away” from your children. For instance, it is impossible for a pre-schooler to keep themselves occupied for more than an hour.
4. “Don’t cry”
It is normal for toddlers and pre-schoolers to get sad, upset and cry their eyes out at times, as they are still learning to express what and how they feel in the right way. While our natural response would be to protect and soothe our children from those feelings, experts advised parents to be wary of the words we use (e.g. “Don’t be sad” or “Stop crying”) as these could send the message that their emotions are not valid.
What to say instead: Instead of denying your child’s feelings and emotions, do acknowledge and name them up front. For example, you could say something like, “You must feel really sad when your friend took your favourite toy away” or “Riding a two-wheeler can be scary at first, but once you get a hang of it, you will be a pro in no time. I’ll be there to help you keep your balance.”
When you name your child’s emotions, you are teaching him/her to express himself/herself while teaching the value of empathy. Over time and with lots of practice, he/she will learn to describe those feelings instead of resorting to tears.
5. “Wait till Daddy/Mummy gets home!”
This familiar phrase that is commonly heard in most households is not only a form of threat – it is also deemed as “delayed discipline” that does not connect the consequences with your child’s actions. By the time your spouse gets to the scene to do the necessary, chances are, your child would have forgotten his/her wrongdoings. On the other hand, passing the discipline torch to someone else may also lead your child to question your authority and think, “Why should I listen to Mum if she’s not going to do anything about it?”
What to do instead: Both parents should have a hand when it comes to discipline, so do handle your child’s misbehaviours there and then. Start by reasoning with them on why their action is not acceptable, before moving on to the consequences as you see fit. The key here is to stick together as a team with your spouse and not shift the responsibility to the other party.
This article is contributed by MindChamps PreSchool Singapore. ©2017 MindChamps PreSchool Singapore. All rights reserved.