So many parents find themselves using words, phrases, and sentences that lead to the exact opposite outcome than they had hoped to reach. Here’s the first article in this series of “How Not to Talk to Children.”
Throughout the years, I’ve collected hundreds of examples of words, phrases, and sentences that leave parents wondering “how did this just happen” or simply feeling that everything they say to their children comes out wrong. Indeed, it often feels as if kids and adults speak entirely different languages, and to an extent – this is precisely the case.
There’s a reason for this – we, adults, we process what we hear using our brains – we have our years of experiences, and we’ve developed the judgments (aka – thoughts) that help us understand what was said and what was the meaning behind the spoken words, and even us – we get it wrong all too often.
Kids, on the other hand, don’t yet have all this experience, and thus – they listen with their hearts rather than with their brains.
And listening to the heart is something that us adults, have long forgotten.
If you don’t yet know me, my name is Viki; I’m a communication specialist; I help parents build unbreakable bonds with their children through mutual understanding. Because the language we speak is what creates and what ruins us, doesn’t it?
The following are the first five examples of sentences that ALL parents use while communicating with their children, that end up leading to the opposite result than the one we had wished for. In the search for cooperation, understanding, mutual respect, and acceptance – we often use words that inflict pain on the hearts of our little ones, shutting them down, and preventing us from a healthy and mutual stream of communication.
How not to talk to children – here we go 🙂
Why are You Crying? Nothing Happened!
So often we are so caught into our agenda that we can’t even see what’s happening in front of us. Our agenda is most prominent when our children cry, and it almost always the same – we have to make it stop. It is our job to make it stop. And so we say things like “nothing happened”, “you’re a big boy”, “you’re too sensitive,” and many other examples.
The common denominator in all these examples is the belittling of the child’s feelings – we want him to stop crying, so we push him to “man up,” “toughen up,” “grow up” and see what we see – that everything is okay; right?
However – our experience has nothing to do with the experience of our crying little one. To our child – something clearly DID HAPPEN. No one chooses to cry – if we could choose to always be happy – we would. Sometimes, however, we need to make room for other experiences, other feelings. If not for any other reason, then simply just because they exist, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.
Next time, look at your child – something did happen. Perhaps he got scared? Embarrassed? Disappointed? There are so many options. Ask him, with real curiosity – your job is to learn, not to make it stop.
It’s Easy! I’m Sure You Can Do It!
But we say it when the child is clearly struggling, right?
When we wish to show our confidence and support, we often negate the experience the child is going through and thus we make it so much harder on the find the tools that he needs to “do it” – whatever it is.
We’re sure he can do it, right? We speak it out, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that for some reason, the child doesn’t seem to be able to do it just yet – we don’t know what he needs to make it, but he needs something.
When we say “it’s easy” we make the child feel even smaller facing the task and even less confident – “if it’s so easy mom, why can’t I do it“? His little heart will ask. This saying will leave him with nothing but less reason to attempt the task and try to “do it.”
Next time your child is struggling (in any aspect of life), don’t tell him that you’re sure he can do it and that it’s easy, but give his struggle space, time, and place, and be there for him in both words and actions: “I see that you’re struggling – how can I help you? What do you need”?
Way to Go! You’re Such a Good/Smart/Brave/Strong Boy/Girl!
This one is going to be a tough cookie, I know, because we all believe in praise, “good words” and acknowledgments. The problem is that labels tend to do the exact opposite. When a child is always the smart one, getting the best grades, and enjoying everyone’s appreciation it’s super easy for us to no longer see the hard work she puts in; the effort, determination, perseverance, the struggle. She didn’t ace the test due to everything she had done, but because she is so smart. And what happens if, one day, she fails the test? Is she no longer smart? Will everyone appreciate her less?
This is the inner struggle that all “good kids” who are constantly called and referred to as “good kids” suffer – are they doing whatever they are doing because they genuinely want to, or because the label that hangs above their heads obligates them?
The pressure to be “good,” “smart,” “strong,” and many other positive adjectives is the pressure that many children pay a significant price for. Often, they choose to rebel against that adjective, no matter how positive it is, just because no one sees them behind that adjective.
Want to strengthen your child, compliment him, and make him feel better? Talk about what she did – not who she is. Let her make that decision.
This is one we hear all the time at playgrounds, play-dates, malls, and anywhere else. If you’re not coming – I’m leaving and going wherever it is, without you. Not all children will “buy” this threat, but those who will are those who we expect to suffer the consequences of the use of this threat.
Children, you see, know that they can’t survive without us. They don’t necessarily know it in the form of adult knowledge (being able to imagine what this might mean), but they know it in their experience, in their physical cells. This is their survival instinct, and we trigger it each time we threaten to leave without them. The children who will follow are those who believe this is an option – we can go without them and leave them alone.
These are the kids who would be more clingy than others in social settings, reluctant to leave our sides, and continually looking for our protection. These kids will take longer to fall asleep at night (because night time is also a form of separation) and to learn the independence we are so eager for them to acquire.
Next time you want to leave, don’t threaten. Give enough time in advance, make a few notices, choose the last activity together, plan the next time you will come back, discuss what you are going to do next, and most importantly – plan and have enough time for these negotiations.
All the above will be faster and easier than restoring a triggered surviving instinct.
Oh! So Nice of You To Join Us/ So You Do Know How To Get Dressed!
Oh, sarcasm. Don’t we love sarcasm? Sure we do 🙂 What can possibly be better than the ability to be both happy and sad at the same time? Proud and disappointed at the same time? If you haven’t thought this through, this is where sarcasm comes from — dual feelings.
If let’s say, we have a child who is somewhat of a ‘loner’ (this is a judgment, not an observation), and we keep trying and trying to convince him to spend more time outside of his room. And then he comes out! Wow! We’re so happy he came out and is about to spend time with us, right? But on the other hand, we’re so sad and confused since it doesn’t happen so often and we keep and keep talking about it, but no change is seen. Then we blab something like “oh so you do know the way to the kitchen“? or “wow it’s been so long! We’ve missed you“! But with that sarcastic voice, you know?
The thing is that kids can’t read into this entire interpretation of your feelings and everything that had led you to choose sarcasm. Since kids listen with their hearts, they would hear nothing but the judgment in your voice, and it will make it so much harder on them to do that thing that you long for next time – yes, that very thing they just did.
Next time, be happy and proud. No matter what happened – your child had to overcome something within him to do that thing that he doesn’t often do – he needs you to strengthen him, not to put him down and perpetuate the same behavior you wish to change.
These were 5 out of over 100 examples I’ve collected on how not to talk to children; join my Facebook group right here or sign up anywhere below to make sure you won’t miss the next article in this series!
And don’t forget – your words are who you are. Your words build bonds, or they build up walls.
Be mindful of them 🙂