Saying the right thing to your children ALL THE TIME is impossible, but knowing what you shouldn’t say to your children in certain situations is key to building a long-lasting relationship that empowers the future without damaging the present.
As a Positive Parenting consultant and as a parent myself, I know firsthand how hard it can be to find the right thing to say to a triggered child when their triggers often trigger us. And since we are talking about triggered moments, remember that the less you say, the better. It’s not a good time to teach, educate, lecture, explain, express your dismay, or say anything lengthy because your child cannot hear you. Instead, stop and breathe – it will also help you calm down.
Here’s a list of 5 things not to say to your child that I’ve compiled following observations I’ve made with my family and so many others in various settings:
Don’t “Blame” Your Child for Something You Are “Guilty” Of
This one often comes up with nurtured habits and behaviors we see in our children and blame ourselves for. This can come around screen time, eating and learning practices, procrastination, anger management, etc.
Our children are often a reflection of what they see and experience at home. When we recognize patterns we dislike or wish to discontinue, telling our children that they spend too long on their screens or are eating in unhealthy ways is irrelevant unless we check in with ourselves first. How do we relate to food? How long do we spend on our screens? How many of these talks do we have WHILE holding our phone?
If you’re feeling guilty over a behavior you’ve instilled in your child, there are only two options: you can be the change you wish to see, or you can accept that this is what you are doing and move on with compassion.
Doing something and blaming yourself for it is also detrimental to you.
Don’t Diminish Your Child’s Experience
It’s not so bad.
It’s only a little bruise.
There’s nothing to cry about.
There are many positive reasons why we might feel compelled to say those things, but we shouldn’t. Whatever your child is communicating represents their experience, and it doesn’t matter what we think.
Don’t Blame Your Child for their Experience
You’re constantly running and goofing around; sure, you’d fall!
Well, if you’d done your homework on time, you wouldn’t be in this mess – would you?
If you hadn’t pushed your friend, they’d still want to be friends with you.
When children are upset over something that happened, their experience is enough to sow the seeds of the lesson they will learn. They will learn to be more careful with their bodies in time. They will learn how relationships work in time. They will learn responsibility in their own time. As parents, our job here is so-so simple! It’s only about meeting them where they are, being there, accepting, and containing them.
Don’t Blame Your Child for Your Experience
Of course, I‘m yelling! Did you see what you did?
Why would I be nice to you? Were you nice to me?
If you’re going to yell, then I’ll be yelling too!
I came across a banner I liked, and I can’t remember where so I can’t provide credit, but know that this sentence isn’t mine – your job isn’t to prevent your child from having a tantrum, your job is to make sure you don’t get one, and this is 100% accurate.
When we blame our children for our actions, we put a huge responsibility in their hands, confusing them to think they have this enormous power over us. But, wait… Do we give them this power unintentionally? Yes, that’s what we do when we don’t take responsibility for ourselves.
We are the only ones responsible for what we do.
Don’t Judge, Criticize, and Critique Everything that they Do
Why did you do it?
How did it happen?
Can’t you be more careful?
Why does it always happen to you?
We tend to think that our children are future adults, and while this is inevitably the case, it is irrelevant to the present. They are now kids, and this is what and who they need to be.
It’s okay for them to spill, drop, throw, stumble, make mistakes, have big feelings, and all those little things that we have such strong opinions about (and against). All these things are 100% okay for NOW and will gradually disappear from your life. But the relationship will stay, and what it looks like is all in your hands.
So… How Do We Say the Right Thing?
To not finish with such negativity, let’s briefly explore the various better comebacks to the situations above.
- Empathy and validation always work. “Wow, are you feeling _____ right now? I get it; I would, too, if _____ happened to me”.
- Observation and practical support always work. “You spilled some milk; let’s get it cleaned. Should we use this or that?”
- Curiosity always works. “Wait, what did you mean when you said that”? “What did you hope to achieve when you did that”?
- Storytelling always works. “You know, I remember something very similar that happened to me once… Here’s what I did”.
For more clarity on any of these, follow the links in the text; they lead to elaborate articles on each subject and could easily aid you with establishing positive and empowering communication with your children.