Unhelpful Things Parents Say
As parents, we say a lot of things to our children, and some of what we say can become a repetitive habit without our realizing it. As much as we want to be helpful to our children, are our words of wisdom really helping? Well, not always. For instance, if you find yourself saying things such as, “Oh, you’re just fine,” or “Don’t cry,” to quiet your sobbing child, you might look for a different way to approach the situation. Here are some new, helpful things to say instead:
- Don’t worry. Sometimes as parents, we think a hug and a simple, “You’re okay,” will be comforting when our children are upset about something. Remember, though, if they’re crying, they’re obviously not okay. Whether it’s a fear of monsters, a bad dream, something that upset them at school, or the ups-and-downs of puberty, their feelings need to be acknowledged, and kids need parents to help them find ways to deal with those feelings. Try asking questions such as, “What are some things you can do to help you feel less worried?”
- Say, “Hi.” Is your child uncomfortably shy? Does he hide behind you when meeting new people or when you run into someone you know at the store? If so, the first thing you don’t want to say is, “Don’t be shy.” If he’s not comfortable talking to people he doesn’t know well, don’t pressure him. While we try to instill and encourage politeness, stating aloud that your child is shy, in front of your child, only encourages his shyness. Instead of putting him on the spot, work with him ahead of time on how to meet and greet new people. Try role playing at home. Most importantly, don’t force your child to talk if he doesn’t want to.
- I told you so. No one likes to hear these words. While we want kids to understand that listening to us is wise, it’s not wise on our part to always tell them things such as, “See? Aren’t you glad you brought the umbrella I told you to grab?” or “See? Isn’t it easier to walk through your bedroom when the toys are picked up?” Children who hear these words will simply raise their defenses, not listen, and a power struggle most likely will begin. Instead, stay silent. Remember that the best teacher is experience itself.
- Hurry up! It’s time to get in the car for school, but your youngest is taking her time finding shoes she wants to wear. Your first instinct is to tell her to hurry up, but this only creates more stress. Instead, soften your tone and try saying, “Let’s hurry.” This sends the message that the two of you are on the same team. You might even turn it into a race to see who can put her shoes on faster!
- Great job! Throwing out generic phrases like “Way to go” or “Good boy” every time your child masters a skill, according to research, makes him dependent on your praise rather than his own motivation. It sets your child up for a lifetime of seeking approval from parents, bosses and coworkers. Instead, save the ’atta boys for times when they’re truly warranted—and be specific. Rather than saying, “Great game,” say, “I liked the way you dribbled the ball away from your opponent and kept going to the goal.”
- Let me help! If Annie is struggling with a puzzle, you naturally want to jump in and help her out. However, don’t jump in too soon. Allow your child her independence so she doesn’t always look to others for answers. Instead, ask her guiding questions such as, “Do you think you should put the big piece or little piece in the corner? Why?”
- Why can’t you be more like your sister? Never, ever compare your child to someone else. Comparison and competition tell your child he is not enough. These feelings potentially can follow your child throughout his life, because a person always can find someone to compare himself to who will make him feel bad about himself.
If you want to be helpful when your child needs you most, simply think about how you want people to speak to you on a daily basis. What words or actions make you feel good about who you are or help you the most in a tough situation? When you take the time to put yourself in your child’s shoes, your newfound wise words and actions will become the light that shines over every part of your child’s life.
What parents say: What children hear:
“You know better than that!” “You never do anything right.”
“Leave me alone!” “I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Don’t be a baby.” “I don’t care about your feelings.”
Gina Klein is a mom and author who resides in Kansas City with her husband and two daughters.