Things NOT to say to your child — instead use positive reinforcement
Many parents can get very stressed trying to do too much; working full-time, running kids to events/appointments, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, car-pooling, etc. And many times when our children are constantly asking questions, wanting us to do something for them, or just pulling at us wanting attention, it’s quite easy to say “leave me alone!”
A parent who doesn’t crave an occasional break is a saint, a martyr, or someone who’s so overdue for some time alone she’s forgotten the benefits of recharging. Trouble is, when you routinely tell your kids, “Don’t bother me” or “I’m busy,” they internalize that message. They begin to think there’s no point in talking to you because you’re 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.
From infancy, kids should get in the habit of seeing their parents take time for themselves. Use pressure-release valves – whether signing up with a babysitting co-op, trading off childcare with your partner or a friend, or even parking your child in front of a video (occasionally) so that you can have half an hour to relax and regroup.
At those times when you’re preoccupied (or overstressed), set up some parameters in advance. A better response may be, “Mom has to finish this one thing, so I need you to paint quietly for a few minutes. When I’m done, we’ll go outside.”
Just be realistic. A toddler and a preschooler aren’t likely to amuse themselves for a whole hour, so try to get back to them as soon as you can.
Many times we may think we are helping our children by saying things such as “Don’t be sad,” Don’t be a baby, ” or “Now, now there is no reason to be afraid” but kids DO get upset enough to cry, especially toddlers, who can’t always articulate their feelings with words. They DO get sad, and they DO get frightened. It’s natural to want to protect your child from such feelings, but saying ‘Don’t be’ doesn’t make a child feel better, and it also can send the message that his emotions aren’t valid – that it’s not OK to be sad or scared.
Rather than deny that your child feels a particular way – when he obviously does – acknowledge the emotion up front. “It must make you really sad when Jason says he doesn’t want to be your friend anymore.” “Yes, the waves sure can be scary when you’re not used to them. But we’ll just stand here together and let them tickle our feet. I promise I won’t let go of your hand.”
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. Ultimately, he’ll cry less and describe his emotions instead.
Labels are shortcuts that shortchange kids: “Why are you so mean to Katie?” Or “How could you be such a klutz?” Sometimes kids overhear us talking to others: “She’s my shy one.” Young children believe what they hear without question, even when it’s about themselves. So negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thomas gets the message that meanness is his nature. “Klutzy” Sarah begins to think of herself that way, undermining her confidence. Even labels that seem neutral or positive – “shy” or “smart” – pigeonhole a child and place unnecessary or inappropriate expectations on her.
A far better approach is to address the specific behavior and leave the adjectives about your child’s personality out of it. For example, “Katie’s feelings were hurt when you told everyone not to play with her. How can we make her feel better?”
“You know better than that!” Like comparisons, quick jabs can sting in ways parents never imagine. For one thing, a child actually may not have known better. Learning is a process of trial and error. Did your child really understand that a heavy pitcher would be hard to pour from? Maybe it didn’t seem that full, or it was different from the one he’s successfully poured from by himself at preschool.
And even if he made the same mistake just yesterday, your comment is neither productive nor supportive. Give your child the benefit of the doubt, and be specific. Say “I like it better if you do it this way, thank you.”
Other jabs include “I can’t believe you did that!” and “It’s about time!” They may not seem awful, but you don’t want to say them too much. They add up, and the underlying message kids hear is: “You’re a pain in the neck, and you never do anything right.”
Check out “Parenting.com” for more things you shouldn’t say to kids!
Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnists for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit www.iowarivervalleyeca.org.