Are you a nagging parent who is always expressing opinions which reflect an overcritical attitude? Maybe your remarks sound harsh and discouraging and yet you never realized it. Perhaps you are alarming your kids unnecessarily. Maybe you are using comments which are totally ineffective. Read these 15 remarks which are unhelpful and at times hurtful. And discover what to say instead.
1. “Quit dawdling.”
You are under pressure to meet the deadline for getting out of the house on time. Your kid dawdles and takes ages to get ready. According to parenting experts, this message puts unnecessary pressure on the child. It is much better to say that you are going to have a race to get your shoes on. This helps the child develop time awareness skills through play, according to Miriam Stoppard, the author of Baby’s First Skills. You can also try to simply say, “Let’s get a move on.”
2. “I’m too fat.”
Kids do not need to hear all your obsessions about your own body image. If they do, they may become far too conscious of their own shape and become fixated, especially if they are on the chubby or skinny side. Talk about healthy eating and why you prefer certain foods. Avoid saying that certain foods make you fat. Try saying things like, “We’re eating greens because they really make us feel good.”
3. “Don’t talk to strangers.”
If you tell them this all the time, they will grow up fearful and overly suspicious. They will have to be exposed to risk at some point and learn how to deal with it. It is much better to teach them that most people, even if strangers, can be trusted. They can trust policemen, librarians and other public officials. It is much better to warn them about certain suspicious behavior which should put them on their guard instead of about strangers in general. Warn them about people asking them for help. It is preferable to act out scenarios by asking them what they would do, for example, “What would you do if …”, quoting one of the scenarios you have practised.
4. “No ice cream unless you finish up your spinach.”
There is no point in using threats or bribes at mealtimes. It spoils the enjoyment of food for everybody. Perhaps we should be more relaxed about it. Susie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue says that parental anxiety about food can lead to food disorders. We have to get the balance right between obsessing over calories and insisting that the child eats healthily. Try a remark such as, “This tastes really good, it’s similar to X that you really like.”
5. “Use your words.”
The problem with telling your child to brush up her vocabulary and try to express her feelings verbally is, that it may make the child feel uncomfortable and inadequate. It is probably still too early to expect them to remember all the words you have taught them. The parenting gurus rightly tell us that reading aloud to kids is one of the best ways to teach new words.
It is much better to say, “Are you feeling x or y…?” and “Let’s think about it.” so that you help them with using the new or difficult word. It also helps you to bond with your child. Otherwise, they will begin to feel that life at home is one long examination.
6. “Don’t spill your milk.”
This is a negative command, just like “Don’t run” or “Don’t touch the oven.” The problem with using negative commands is that they give the child no idea of what he or she should do instead! They actually put the wrong ideas into their heads and they are even more likely to touch the hot oven. A much better approach is to say something like, “Be careful with your glass of milk.” Or “Stay away from the oven.”
7. “Let me help.”
If you say and do this often enough, your child will never be able to solve problems on his own. Offering to help all the time is undermining the kid’s independence and may even interfering negatively with his or her development. They will never develop resilience, build skills or learn patience, as Daniel Coyle has suggested in this blog post. It is much better to ask a guiding question or make a suggestion. You can always say, “Have you tried using the bigger blocks?” when a child is trying to solve a puzzle.
8. “You can cry all night.”
This harsh attitude is damaging to the child because there is no way she can get comfort or affection. According to psychologists, it is always important to take care of the child’s needs before desperation and distress set in. Many parents believe that taking this tough stance will lead to a more independent child. Actually, according to psychologists, the opposite is true and the child will grow up insecure. They recommend that soothing care should be timely. You can read them a story or repeat a nursery rhyme to them.
9. “What a smart kid you are.”
This is not enough to encourage a child in developing her self-esteem and confidence. These phrases which are blank statements do not focus on how the child actually achieved what he or she did. This is the view of Susan Newman, a social psychologist and parenting coach. A much better approach is to praise the child’s efforts and strategies. You could say, “I really liked the colors you chose for the picture of the house,” or “That was great when you passed the ball for the winning goal.”
10. “Wait until your father/mother gets home.”
If you resort to these tactics, you are probably not on the same page as your spouse in regards of discipline. Even worse, there may be a “good cop, bad cop” atmosphere which your kid will exploit for all its worth. It is a much better idea to deal with the discipline issue immediately and tell the child why. For example, you can say, “You are getting a time out because you hit your brother.”
11. “You’re okay.”
If your kid is hurt and is crying, you may think the above remark is reassuring. It is not nearly enough to put things right as the child is in shock and needs support. You cannot brush it aside like that. A much more supportive comment would be, “Wow, that was a nasty fall.” Then you can offer first aid and a kiss to make it better.
12. “You should set a good example for your brother or sister.”
The problem here is that the older kids are a bit jealous of the all the attention the younger siblings get from their parents. This may result in bad behavior or just being difficult. Instead of criticizing a one-off, you could praise his usual behavior. You can say, “You know, your brother sees you as a good role model.”
13. “Don’t worry, that is not going to affect you at all.”
When kids watch national tragedies or wars and terrorism on TV, they naturally become worried and fretful. It may be a good idea to limit exposure to such events. But we have to be careful not to brush their fears aside nor try to brush it under the carpet. Talk about the safety procedures or emergency plans that are in place. You can say, “Mom and Dad will always be around to keep you safe so do not fret.”
14. “Don’t cry.”
If your child is upset about the death of a pet or some other tragedy, this remark is not helpful. It is not sufficient. It is important to tell them that it is perfectly normal to let it all out by crying but telling them to stop is not being supportive. A much better approach is to help them recognize that they are sad and that crying can help to express the sadness. You can say, “It’s normal to cry when someone dies. Let me give you a hug.”
15. “If you don’t clean your room, you will be punished.”
Another threat using the rather menacing word ‘if’. Most parenting experts warn us that using too many threats or warnings is not the way to implement positive parenting. Too many warnings may result in a rather hostile atmosphere and it will be difficult to enjoy a happy home. It is much better to say something beginning with the word, ‘when.’ You could say, “When you have cleaned your room, then you can go out to play/watch TV.”
Do you have any tips on positive parenting that you would like to pass on to our readers?
Featured photo credit: Help for Troubled Teenagers/ Leanna Benn via flickr.com