CALIFORNIA PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC RESOURCES, INC.
PATRICIA MCTAGUE-LOFT, MS, LMFT, FAPA, SAP
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Posted on: October 22, 2021
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It’s not exactly a news flash for parents, but kids don’t come with an owner’s manual. A lot of parents simply raise their kids the way they were raised. The more ambitious among us read books on parenting. And in this day and age of social media, many join online parenting groups. Even so, even the best parent can sometimes say things to their child that just might do more harm than good. It’s unintentional, of course, but most kids don’t understand that nuance.
Catherine Pearson, writing for HuffPost, sums up the problem when she says, “We parents are trying our best, but sometimes — a lot of times — we fall short. That’s why it can be helpful to know some of the potentially damaging phrases parents often resort to without realizing their impact. It’s not about beating ourselves up. It’s about doing better by being a bit more conscious of our language.”
So, what are these potentially damaging phrases? Pearson offers a list of six that may well strike a chord with many parents.
“It’s not a big deal.” To be clear, kids often cry over things that really aren’t a big deal. But that misses the point. Their feelings about the situation are important, and they may interpret your comment as referring to their feelings as opposed to the situation. “Take a moment and try to understand things from their perspective,” says Pearson. Talk about how they’re feeling about the situation and that in turn helps them understand and label their emotions.
“You never” or “You always do XYZ.” The simple fact is that no one, including children, always or never does something. “Remind yourself to be curious about why your child is engaging in a particular behavior at a particular time,” says Pearson. That will help you as a parent avoid blanket generalizations.
“You make me sad when you do that.” This is a particularly beguiling statement, because it’s so often true. A parent really can be sad to see certain behavior. The problem is that it gives a child the power to manipulate their parents’ emotions. And later in life that lesson may be carried into manipulative behavior with others.
“You should know better.” What’s the subtle message being delivered here? You should feel guilty, or ashamed? A better approach might be to focus on solutions. Sure, they made a mistake. Now, guide them toward correcting the situation.
“Just let me do it.” This is a completely understandable response when we’re rushed for time and we’re watching a child struggle with a simple task. The problem is that it sends the message that the child is incompetent. Slow down and, if necessary, work with the child to complete the task.
“You’re a [insert label here].” There are a multitude of problems with labeling. (And incidentally, this is a good lesson we can apply to our adult relationships.) They hinder our ability to understand a situation. They become self-fulfilling. They prevent us from relating to another as a multi-faceted person.
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