I talk a lot in my positive psychology practice about things you should do, or try to do, or say to your kids. Today, while giving you 10 things to never say to your child, I am not trying to be negative, but help you to understand that what we say matters. I found an article online from Parenting Magazine, written by Michelle Crouch. This was an interesting article and as a psychologist, it caught my attention. Now hopefully, you're already aware of the obvious ones, okay. Like saying “Oh, she's the cute one.” Oh really? Be careful with that one. Or “He's the smart one” or “She's the athletic one.” Putting these labels on our kids doesn't help. “Why can't you be more like your brother?” These are the obvious. We are not going to go there today. This particular article triggered some thinking for me and I wanted to share with you a few psychological insights into what the article mentions.
The first one is, “Great job!” Wait, what? You're not supposed to say that to our kids? We all say that, right? There's a good point behind this. We don't want to create a scenario where our children are dependent on our approval or affirmation for what it is that they are doing. What if you were to be a little more specific? When your child comes home from school and has a good grade on their report card. We automatically say, “Great job!” Try saying something like, “I noticed that you got an A in English, how do you feel about that?” We are turning it back to them, inviting them to explore their feelings about their performance instead of just declaring something about it. If you tell a kid, great job, it's not something that's completely destructive, none of these are really, but there are little subtle things that I think are helpful to look at.
Here's the second one. “Practice makes perfect.” You ever heard that from your parents when you were learning a new skill? Now that's a common phrase, not particularly helpful to say to our kids. Why? Because they're already working hard on things and they never get it perfect, do they? Do you? Does practice really make perfect? You know, it's probably more accurate to say practice makes more permanent because whatever we practice we get better at, but it's not necessarily adaptive. You could practice being in a negative mood for example and you are going to get better in a negative mood. Instead, what if we were just talking to our kids in a way that affirms their efforts and helps them to understand the more I work on something, the better I'm likely to get at it. And let's just leave the perfection standard out of it. Perfect is what spoils the whole thing.
Let's look at another one. “You're okay,” said in an almost anxious way. Sometimes if your kid stumbles and falls down, they begin to cry. It's our natural tendency as a parent to comfort them. And there's nothing wrong with that but telling them you're okay, sometimes triggers a little thought process in our kid's mind that, “Oh, well shouldn't I be?” I saw this most flagrantly when I was doing child custody evaluations and I kid you not, I saw an exchange where the mother in this case was sending the child to go over to the father's house for a weekend or maybe it was only an evening. As she was preparing the child to leave, she kept saying “You're okay. You're going to be okay. It's going to be alright. You're going to be safe.” The kid is going nuts because of mom's anxiety. Do you see this? So instead of saying you're okay, notice that when your child is hurt, yeah, of course, they're okay, you know that but throwing that in their face right in the moment probably isn’t the most helpful thing. What if you were to just comfort them and show some empathy? Hold them and say, “Oh, you skinned your knee, that hurts, doesn't it?” Yeah, it hurts. Of course it hurts. So again, not a really destructive word we say, it's something that we commonly do. Just think about some of the implications. Let's go to the next one.
Number four, “Hurry up.” Alright, this is kind of obvious because of the pressure that it creates. What if instead you were to join your child in the process of getting ready to go somewhere? “Let's just hurry.” You see how that feels a little bit different? And we're going to phrase it in a positive way.
Here's number five. “I'm on a diet.” Okay, parents sometimes allow their own issues to bubble over and affect their children and they don't even realize that they are doing it. If mom or dad is so self-conscious about their appearance or their weight or whatever they're constantly going on about, the child tunes into that and they notice. Again, let's phrase this in terms of what it is that we want and bring out the positive aspects of it, something like “Let's eat healthy so that we'll have energy and we'll feel good.” You can address the same things without bringing your own pathology into it. That stings a little sometimes.
Let's go on to number six. “We can't afford that.” Now, I'm a big advocate for teaching kids about finances and how to live within their means. When we say we can't afford that and it's something that the child wants, it creates a whole different feel for that child than if you were to say, “You know what, sweetie, that would be a really neat thing to get and we are saving up right now for this other thing that we really want.” Maybe it's a family vacation, maybe it's groceries, it can be that basic sometimes. But instead, redirecting them from, “Oh, you can't have that because we can't afford it,” we go to, “We are saving our money for this thing.” This subtle shift teaches a real principle about money and managing our resources.
Imagine yourself having a conversation with your teenager about something they want. You could say, “Well, that looks really interesting. How do you think we could afford that?” Now we are inviting the mind to do a little thinking instead of just resisting.
Let's go to the next one. Number seven, “Don't talk to strangers.” There is some clear rationality behind this, because we want to keep our kids safe. What if instead we were to help them to be more discerning about who to talk to? What if your child gets lost sometime and you're not around or anyone else they know, that means everyone is a stranger. If they've got it in their mind don't talk to strangers, then they're on their own, aren't they? What if we were to teach them to look for a grandma or mother with children or look for a store person that's wearing the uniform or for a first responder, you know, a police or fireman? There are people in our community that can be helpful and if we teach our children to be more discerning, we might be able to lead them into better direction instead of just don't talk to strangers.
Here's number eight, “Be careful.” Typically this is about the anxiety of the parent. The example in the article had to do with being on the monkey bars on the playground. The child's up there and they're doing some acrobatic routine, right? And mom is nervous and so mom's like, “Oh, honey. Be careful.” Well, okay. That might distract the child and get their focus off of what it is they're doing. The suggestion in the article I thought was brilliant. Go over closer to the child and spot them in case there's an incident and then after the fact, you might talk about how to use discretion in judgement with the activities that they choose. I thought that was an interesting one.
Here's another one, “No dessert unless you finish your dinner.” This falls into a category for me about positivity and negativity which will totally surprise you, guys. Not. What if instead of saying, “No dessert,” we say, “You can have dessert after your dinner's finished.” Or, “We all eat dessert once dinner is finished.” Frame it in a positive way, it just makes all the difference.
Here's one more from the article, “Let me help.” Alright, now as well-intentioned as that is, a lot of times our kids are working on something that they don't have the same level of skill and dexterity that we do. Maybe they are stacking something up, or they are doing a puzzle and we want to jump in “Let me help you with that.” They may have just about to get itive them some time, let them develop their skills and back off sometimes.
It was interesting to go through this list and see some of the things that you should never say to your kids because they are things that we always say. A little bit of thought and some minor adjustments along those lines will get you flying straight. You know, if you are flying an airplane, and you get just one degree off course, after 500 miles, you are way off course. A course correction is required. These things we say to our kids are not way off, but what if we make little coarentsurse corrections in the things that we commonly say to our kids? Could that create some better outcomes? I think it might. Did that list surprise you too? It did me. Subtle adjustments or course corrections can make a huge difference.
Here's the original article: By Michelle Crouch from Parents Magazine