Words. How greatly are they underestimated! We often hear people say “words are just words”. Those who love literature for example are often mesmerized by the charm of words. If words aren’t powerful, why is it that magic starts with a “spell”. Most significantly, the world was created by “The Word” of God. In fact, many studies have proved that words have energy that affects us either positively or negatively. When it comes to parenting, we should always remember that the way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice. More often than we’d imagine, our words can send inappropriate messages to our children.
The story that inspired this post was, when I was walking through the kids’ area in the club, I overheard a mother talking to her son in baby voices saying,”You didn’t eat your food so Mommy won’t eat her food too, do you want Mommy to become weak and get sick?”. All what this mother had in mind was probably to encourage her boy to finish his food, little did she think that she was conveying to him harmful ideas as well. First of all, not only is the little boy blamed for not eating his lunch, he was suddenly made responsible for Mommy’s health. Apart from the unnecessary guilt, which would put a lot of pressure on the child, this also teaches him that others could be made responsible of faults they didn’t commit. That’s a basic trait of emotional abusers. Moreover, the mother became a model of self-victimization. Few words can teach huge lessons. Let them not be negative ones. Here are 8 examples of common phrases that we shouldn’t tell our children.
1) “It’s impolite to Talk about…”
One day, the things that you will need to discuss the most with your children would be the”impolite” things. One day these children will become teenagers and their ability to discuss with you things that can make you feel uncomfortable can literally save their future. Think about intimate relations, drugs or sexual abuse. There shouldn’t be an issue that is impolite to talk about. We don’t want our children to grow in an environment of suppression in which they receive ideas and cannot reject them or discuss them.
2) Labeling The Floor as ‘Bad’ When Your Toddler Falls
Behaviors like hitting the floor when the child falls and labeling it as ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ are very common. Such a reaction defies all rules of logic, as it breaks the link between behaviors and consequences. Who is learning to take responsibility for one’s actions, the child or the floor? This teaches the child that he/she is not responsible for mistakes. “Someone else is responsible, even if it is a lifeless object”. Instead of saying something like, “Next time be careful not to hurt yourself”, you are basically telling the child that, this object that has no brain is the one responsible for what happened. If we want our children to grow into responsible adults we need to help them learn positively from mistakes. According to Jane Nelson, an Educational Psychologist and the author of ‘Positive Discipline’, natural consequences provide a great opportunity for children to learn when adults don’t interfere as they usually do.
3) “Don’t Talk Back it’s Rude”
The inability to say ‘No’, is a common reason for human suffering while negotiating is a crucial skill for adults to have successful lives. It all starts in childhood. Researchers from the University of Virginia conducted a study on 150 adolescents over two years. They concluded that teenagers who were trained to effectively argue with their caregivers created a defense against negative peer pressure. The more adolescents had conversations with their parents the more confident they were around their friends. The most important thing was that teens should be rewarded and encouraged to argue in a persuasive manner instead of yelling and screaming.
Additionally, Maria Montessori, the Italian physician who developed the Montessori educational method, explained in her book “The Absorbent Mind”, that attempts from adults to inhibit a child’s expression of the will, causing the child to repress his resistance, only results in rebellion against authority. I bet you can recall several people you know, who grew with authoritarian parents and ended up as angry and rebellious adults.
4) Labelling Your Child
Your children will believe everything you say without questioning it, even if it is about their own character. Negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because your words will outline how they define themselves. So if you want your children to acquire self-confidence , let them know that you do believe in them. Even referring to your children as “Shy” in front of others can affect their self confidence. Reactions like apologizing to others because of your children’s behaviors or even their loud noise can make them feel that you are ashamed of them.
Even labelling children with positive words like ‘good girl’, ‘smart’,’brave boy’ can have a more destructive effect on children than you may think. While caregivers often say this in order to to boost a child’s self-esteem, surprisingly, it has quite a different effect. When a child hears “good boy!” after performing a task they were asked to do, they consequently assume that they’re only “good” because they did what you’ve asked. As a result, children can fear losing their status as a “good kid” and the incentive behind their behavior becomes all about receiving the same positive feedback. On the long term, this may increase their dependence on adults. The more parents say, “I like the way you….”, the more kids rely on their parents’ evaluations, rather than learning to form their own judgments. The result is that they learn to measure their worth in terms of what the parents approve of. Sadly, many of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need to the approval of others as a measurement of their success. Instead try, “You really tried hard this time!” By focusing on a child’s effort, we’re teaching him/her that the effort is more important than the results.
5) Comparing Your Children to Other Kids
It’s normal for parents to look at other children as a frame of reference when analyzing behavior and milestones, yet children should never feel it. Every child grows at his own pace and each has his own talents and weaknesses. Comparing your kids to others makes them feel judged and unloved. The negative effects of these comparisons might last throughout their lives. Not only is this damaging to their self-esteem, but also it harbors jealousy and secret hate. This increases the chances that the children could react aggressively. They can also pick fights with anyone who seems competitive to them.
6) “You Could Have Done Better Than That”
Just like comparisons, the underlying message is “You never get it right”. Parents may never imagine how their words cut deep. Sometimes a parent’s expression of disappointment can remain vividly alive in their child’s memory for a lifetime. Learning is a process of trial and error. Even if your child made the same mistake yesterday, such a response is neither productive nor supportive. It would be more positive to give the child the benefit of the doubt, saying something like “I think it’s better if you do it this way”
7) “Be a man” or “Men don’t cry”
What is usually meant by “Be a man”? Being braver? Stronger? Apart from the fact that these qualities are gender neutral, and such ideas are the seed of gender inequality, a child rarely understands what is truly meant by this request.
From an early age, boys learn that tears and sobs are forms of failure. And they grow under the constant pressure that it’s ‘weak’ to show one’s feelings, this inhibits the child’s ability to express his emotions. Failing to deal with one’s own emotions, makes men prone to depression. A little boy who believes that his feelings have been denied can grow to be isolated and angry. This is the future husband who is incapable of emotionally connecting with his wife and the future father who fails to show affection to his children.
Dr. Englar-Carlson, an associate professor of counseling at California State University, claims that men, as a result of the social pressure to be more masculine, make lifestyle choices that put them at risk of early death. Examples refusing to wear seatbelts and helmets, getting into fights, not using sunscreen and avoiding seeking help. All children have the right to feel that their parents respect their emotions.
8) “Wait till Daddy Gets Home”
Well, now that the father is the monster, the mother is also shaking her role as authority as well. So both parents are losing here. The simple message here is that “Mommy can’t handle me”. Children do not have a sense of time like we do, and if our reaction is not immediate they won’t relate it to their actions. By the time the father gets home, it’s likely that children will actually have forgotten what they did wrong. So, this threat is completely ineffective.
The effect of our words on children should never be underrated. There was once a song written for children who are being called names, the song says “Sticks and stones may break my bones, But your words could never hurt me”. No matter how strongly we wish for this to be true, it’s not. Because words are not just words. They deliver meanings and emotions. It’s never too late to start watching your words.