Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…have the power to damage me forever!
The experiences I have had in my family, at school, and around my friends have influenced the way I see myself. The messages I have received since I was a child, have given me my identity. The words that have been repeated to me by my loved ones, have shaped me into the woman and mother I am today.
Like me, if you are a mother, you probably fear that you will do or say things that will have a negative impact on your children. I am aware of some mistakes I make and I try really hard to stop but, like they say, old habits die hard.
Here are a few remarks I want to stop making when addressing my child or things that I never want to say to him. If only I could stick up with this plan!
1. Don’t embarrass me. The message I send if I say this is that what people think is more important to me than my child and how he feels. Instead, no matter what he does, I want to be there for my son, truly listen to him and accept him. I want to be the person he always goes to when he needs support.
2. Why did you do this? First of all, children don’t know why they did something we perceive as being “wrong”. Secondly, they start to develop excuse-making habits as soon as we, parents/caregivers, begin asking them this question. So practically, the reason they come up with validates the behavior and makes it okay in their eyes. Instead, I want to ask my child: What happened? This will help me identify the problem and encourage him to find a solution.
3. Say you are sorry! Saying “sorry” implies the admission of a fault and should be an expression of regret. Children take toys from each other, hit each other or say offensive words but they are not always sorry. They usually feel angry and defensive and they don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want my child to think that saying sorry when he is not, will fix a problem. This kind of apology doesn’t help the hurt part feel any better and won’t help the one who apologizes to take responsibility for his/her actions. Instead, I want to find out what happened. Then, I would like for all people involved in the incident to listen to how the hurt part feels. After that, if I still don’t hear an apology from the offending child, I will have him/her ask what he/she can do to help the other child feel better. Hopefully, they will find a solution: sharing, fixing something that was broken or giving a hug. If they are old enough, they can even find a solution for a similar situation in the future. Now that my son is too young, when I don’t see any sign of remorse after he has done something wrong, I remove him from the situation and tell the hurt child I am sorry for what happened.
4. Let me do that for you/you can’t do this. I know that if I keep repeating this message to my son, he will learn that he is not capable of doing things on his own and this will lower his self-confidence. Rather than preventing him from doing something dangerous, I want to let him experience the consequences (if it is not too dangerous). This way, he will become more confident and independent. I try hard to step back and help him only when he wants my help, but if I need to help, I want to say Let’s do it together!.
5. This is stupid. Every word we say is going to grow roots into our children’s hearts and minds and later define who they are as a person. I think that even if we separate the behavior from the child, young kids can’t distinguish between the two and they will still get hurt. If we keep hearing “stupid” from a parent especially, this is how we eventually are going to label ourselves. I want to try not to label my son in any way. I think that even more positive labels are dangerous. I kept hearing my parents say about me that I am shy since I can remember. Guess what? I complied.
6. What’s wrong with you? Just like the previous one (5), if our children continuously hear that there is something wrong with them, they will start believing that. They might look for an answer and if they can’t find one, the conclusion will be “I am a bad person”. Instead, I want to address the issue I am concerned about, listen and try to understand my child’s actions. An alternative might be: What happened?
7. Stop crying. It is very hard, especially for toddlers, to handle their emotions. They can’t articulate how they feel and they are often overwhelmed. Saying “There is no reason to cry.” or “You are a big boy/girl!” not only doesn’t help but denies their feelings. Instead, I want to validate my son’s feelings and acknowledge his emotions by naming them, so he could hear the words from me. Eventually, he will cry less and start expressing his feelings more.
8. Leave me alone. I am busy. We are all busy, and we all need breaks. But I never want my child to feel unloved and rejected. I will not feel guilty for not dropping everything to immediately attend to his every demand. But when my son comes to me and I am in the middle of something, what I want to say is: Mummy will finish this and then …
9. I’m leaving without you. Separation anxiety is just the beginning of what can become a serious fear of abandonment and it starts when a baby is abound 6 months old. Many families try different methods to deal with it. What they want is to comfort their babies and help them understand that even if they are separated for a while, they always come back. To plant in a child the fear that you are abandoning him/her is just cruel. Of course, this is just an empty threat meant to get a desired behaviour. But I think it is easier to avoid the scenario altogether. For instance, if I need to leave the playground and my child refuses to come after I gave him a 5-minute warning, I just pick him up and go.
10. Good job! Nothing bad with reinforcing good behavior, but if it is becoming just a verbal tic, it loses its power. Young children are hungry for approval and if we keep praising them for what is expected from them, they are going to expect praise for every little thing. Instead, I want to ask questions to show that I am impressed and say what I see. E.g. Look at how happy Johnny is because you shared your toy with him! or You finished breakfast all by yourself! And there are no spills! (Alfie Khon, my all time favorite, explains this one best here. )