Unhelpful things that well-meaning parents say
Your child’s crumpled into a ball in the living room, sobbing over a newly broken toy. You jump into action to quell the crying and help him feel better – but will your words actually help?
As much as parents would like to consider ourselves fonts of unending wisdom, we can say some pretty unhelpful things at times. These aren’t necessarily things said in the midst of a late-afternoon tantrum or a middle-of-the-store meltdown, but things we say to comfort our kids with the best intentions of helping them.
So, the next time these words are on the tip of your tongue, take a second and look for a different way to approach the situation:
1. Don’t worry or don’t cry. When we say this, we truly do want our kids to feel better – but instead, it can make your child feel like you see those feelings as unimportant. The truth is, we’re all sad or worried sometimes, and we need to help our children learn to work with these feelings rather than ignore them. Instead of saying, “It’s silly to believe that there are three-eyed pink monsters under the bed,” acknowledge your child’s feelings and then find ways to deal with those feelings. Ask questions like, “What are some things you can do to feel less afraid?” or “what are some things that you can do to feel less worried?” Not only does this show your child that her feelings are valid and important, it shows her that she can control how those feelings affect her.
2. Don’t be shy. How many times have you been chatting with an acquaintance at the park or store only to find your son hiding behind your leg? Or maybe your normally talkative daughter has gone silent when asked a simple question by your friend? Often, the first thing we say to our child is “don’t be shy.” While we’re trying to encourage politeness, we’re forgetting that kids have different personalities and aren’t all equally outgoing. When we call our kids “shy,” they have a greater tendency to act shy. Instead of putting them on the spot when you run into a friend at the mall, try working together ahead of time on how to deal with meeting and greeting new people. Role play situations, arrive to events early to allow your child to get acclimated – and most importantly – don’t pressure your child into talking if he doesn’t want to.
3. Any sentence that begins with “see”. As adults, we don’t like hearing “I told you so,” and neither do our kids. When we say, “see, wasn’t it a good idea to bring an umbrella today?” or “see, isn’t it easier to pick out a shirt when you hang them up?” we’re trying to reinforce our point or teach a lesson. Instead, our kids hear, “I told you so. If you would just listen to me, life would be much easier!” Defenses go up, your lesson is less likely to be heard, and a power struggle will probably result. In this case, the best teacher is the experience itself.
When we know more about how our children interpret our words, we can truly be as helpful as we’re intending to be.