As parents most of us know we are not perfect, and there are things we say, often in the heat of the moment, or when we are feeling stressed and weary, that we regret almost immediately. The good news is that children are resilient. We still need to be aware, however, that our words will have an impact on our children and certain things, if said repeatedly can have a powerful impact on the way they think about themselves. So here’s a list of some things it’s best not to say.
I guess we’ve all heard it said, people telling their children they are stupid, bad, irritating or whatever. The danger with phrases like these is that we are usually talking about a child’s behaviour but saying that is their character. We all have moments when we behave in a way that is stupid, silly, irritating, and unkind or whatever but it doesn’t mean that is always our character. It’s much better to comment on the behaviour pointing out that a particular action or comment was unkind, irritating, unhelpful, or stupid though that is a word I try to avoid. Even if your comment is a helpful one it is often better to refer to the behaviour than comment upon it as a character trait.
In a similar way to the above this implies that certain behaviours happen all the time but that is rarely the case. Children, like adults have good and bad days but we’d all hate to be judged by things that really haven’t been our proudest moments. Yes, all children make a fuss sometimes, all have moments when they can’t handle their emotions or feelings, when they behave in unacceptable ways but most children don’t do this all the time and saying that they do makes it much more likely that they will live up, or down, to that expectation. I have worked with many older children where they have grown up firm in the belief that they spoil or ruin everything simply because that has been said to them so frequently.
Many parents will complain that their children never do as they are told, listen, go to bed on time, eat their greens, share with their sibling, tidy their room or any one of a hundred other things. But think about it, they do sometimes. Again, it is much better to talk about specific behaviours or a specific incident and deal with that rather than make very general comments.
Here, I’m talking about the word can’t in relation to ability rather than permission. Obviously children have things they can’t do, that is a reality but if you have read anything at all about growth mind-set you will realise that framing how things are said can have a powerful impact on children’s self-esteem and confidence in their ability to learn. You can read about growth mind-set here
Simply adding the word yet can reframe a statement, there are lots of skills and abilities children don’t have, yet. That somehow changes the focus away from something they can’t do to something they will be able to do at some point. I often hear parents saying that their children can’t speak clearly, sit still, hold a knife and fork, or a pencil properly and this may be true but they are still learning. Saying they can’t do it yet, carries with it an implication that they will be able to one day and somehow it doesn’t then seem like a problem but rather something they will learn in time.
She or he is
Many parents talk about their children when the children are present. They might describe their child as shy, noisy, lazy, difficult, naughty, or defiant, when they child is listening, they might not look like they are listening but they probably are. Many of us may remember our parents saying such things about us and some may have struggled to alter our self-perception as we got older and things changed. As parents we must remember that children are a bit like sponges and they will take in what they hear and believe it, especially when a parent says it. A parent is a powerful character in the life and mind of a child.
Being a parent is a tough job and one we continually try to do well. If you find you are about to say any of the phrases above, just pause for a moment and see if there isn’t a better way to express your thoughts, saying what you need to say but in a way that won’t have a negative impact on your child.