When not entirely sure of how to manage their kids, parents often revert to generic parental phrases they’ve heard over the years, assuming that these not-so-magic words will somehow do the trick. This isn’t a terrible approach per se, but you run the risk of reeling off outdated cliches that are based on wrong assumptions about how kids work, and are ultimately unhelpful. To prevent you from causing any accidental harm to your relationships, here are 7 things you should never say to your child.
We’ve all been there. Your child is acting like an absolute nightmare, having a tantrum and throwing around whatever objects they can get their hands on. It’s moments like these that you’ll have your most negative thoughts about your kids, and it’s understandably difficult to not feel like your once beloved baby is actually a bad person. The desire to tell them this can almost be overwhelming, but it’s crucial that you hold back. Here’s why. Our assumption as parents (and adults) is that our child is misbehaving because they’re spiteful, and want to get a reaction from us. Although this can feel like the case, it certainly isn’t. Kids misbehave for a variety of reasons - often an overreaction, but never with any evil intent! So saying ‘you’re a bad kid’ can be extremely damaging, and could lead to them internalizing this message and suffering from anxiety and depression as a result.
Speaking of anxiety issues, the commonly used but ill-judged phrase ‘don’t be shy’ could potentially lead your child down this path. This may sound drastic, but constantly pushing them to say hello to people when they’d rather not, or even persuading them to hug or shake hands with people will not have the desired effect. Rather, your child’s shyness will increase and they’ll find social situations more and more uncomfortable. To actually help them overcome shyness, offer your support, provide them with plenty of preparation time prior to difficult social situations, and also consider rehearsing these scenarios together one-on-one.
Whether we like it or not, part of a child’s development is that they are prone to random compulsions, like screaming high-pitched at the top of their voice, or running around the house in hysterics while you’re trying to get them ready for bathtime. This behavior isn’t pre-meditated, and therefore not exactly controllable in the parental sense of the word, so telling your child to ‘get it out your system’ simply won’t work. In fact, it could make things worse. By essentially giving them the green light (temporarily) to scream at the top of their voice or run around the house in hysterics, their behavior is being reinforced. Instead, focus on praising the positive elements of these random compulsions - for instance, why not encourage your child’s use of their voice, but convince them to turn that scream into a song instead? You could even sing along with them!
Banishing your kid to their room doesn’t feel good, and it’s definitely not a good tactic to employ. When they’ve misbehaved, it’s likely that your child has violated a positive social code that you've been trying to instill in them, so saying ‘go to your room’ (and stay there on your own) won’t improve the antisocial attitude in any way. Even if your child is in their room calming down by playing with toys or reading a book, their mind has now drifted from the reason they’ve been banished. Rather than sending them to their room alone, try introducing a time-out time with your child, where they remain in your presence - so that you can communicate and explain the reasons for the time-out - whilst still enforcing a punishment for their naughty behavior.
As adults, we know exactly what this means. Positioned somewhere between behavior and consequence, saying ‘or else…’ is essentially a threat. The problem is, threats are ultimately an ineffective way to parent, and won’t actually solve your child’s behavior that you’re threatening them about. Instead, try and emphasize the tangible consequences of their actions. For instance, if you’re in the car on the way to see your son’s grandparents and he starts misbehaving, rather than threatening him with various repercussions, gently explain that carrying on like this will mean that we’ll have to postpone our trip to see granny and grandad for another time, and that they’ll be really sad to not see us today. Taking this more nuanced approach should have a greater impact, and keep your stress levels to a minimum as well!
Again, this is another threat that parents without a strategy pluck from adult life, and is simply an unacceptable phrase to use with kids. It’s confusing (asking for what, exactly?) and sends the wrong message. If the threat materializes in actual physical punishment, this can have serious repercussions. Research shows that children subjected to violence are more likely to display antisocial, violent behavior in later life.
No matter who’s older or younger, sibling rivalries can be extremely damaging. If your eldest child is frustrating you, whilst his younger brother is behaving like an angel, it can be tempting to utter the words ‘be more like your brother’, but this intensifies the already competitive pressure felt between them. Rather than pitting your kids against each other like this, encourage cooperation between them, such as doing household chores together or playing video games on the same team.
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