What not to say to a child

CHOOSE WISELY: THERE ARE WORDS AND PHRASES THAT WILL DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - CITY - Tshep­iso Makhele

Best prac­tice par­ent­ing in­volves know­ing what to say and when and how to say it.

Hav­ing a four-year-old daugh­ter has made me re­alise that what I say to her or when she is within hear­ing dis­tance can have se­ri­ous emo­tional reper­cus­sions.

This forces me to be more care­ful about the lan­guage I use in her pres­ence.

She is such a good repli­ca­tor. She re­peats things I say to her or her friends or her dolls, in­di­cat­ing that whether or not it was some­thing I said in pass­ing, it has stuck with her.

Par­ents for­get what a big role they play in ex­pand­ing their chil­dren’s vo­cab­u­lary, shap­ing how they view them­selves and life, and what they be­lieve they are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing.

We play an im­por­tant role and the words we use are a big part of it. Be­ing a par­ent in­volves re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that ex­ceed merely putting food on the ta­ble and tak­ing your child to a good school.

The phrases par­ents use can un­doubt­edly change a child’s world view, af­fect their men­tal de­vel­op­ment and make them adopt bad ways of liv­ing.

“You should lis­ten to adults,” I once heard a par­ent say to her tod­dler.

While this might be re­garded as good man­ners and a sign of re­spect, not all adults are good, hence this pop­u­lar phrase can be dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially when the child starts trust­ing all adults, in­clud­ing strangers.

Be­ing over­pro­tec­tive when it comes to chil­dren’s safety, I threw in my two cents worth, telling the child that “what mommy meant was that you need to lis­ten to your par­ents, not strangers”.

Be­ing a par­ent has a lot to do with know­ing what to say and when and how to say it.

Chil­dren are frag­ile and ev­ery day is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them, so what their mother says is a big part of the les­son.

Shar­ing toys was an is­sue in the be­gin­ning for my daugh­ter so I had to teach her the proper way to pro­tect her pos­ses­sions, know­ing that she is wor­thy of them and that shar­ing doesn’t mean los­ing them.

I of­ten tell moth­ers not to tell their chil­dren to “stop be­ing greedy or self­ish” as it might make the child think that they must share ev­ery­thing and noth­ing is theirs, which can progress into a self-sac­ri­fic­ing at­ti­tude.

But say­ing to your child, “would you let this lit­tle girl play with your doll” might in­stead give them a chance to man­age their pos­ses­sions them­selves and em­power them.

Com­par­isons don’t work well when it comes to boost­ing a child’s con­fi­dence, whether it’s com­par­ing the child to an­other or a sib­ling or to a younger ver­sion of your­self.

“Look at how well be­haved that lit­tle girl is” is the kind of phrase that make a child feel like they can’t achieve any­thing.

Re­as­sur­ing words like “I know you can do this” points to their ca­pa­bil­i­ties and shows that you be­lieve in their abil­i­ties.

“I could do that when I was your age” is an­other phrase that puts a child un­der pres­sure.

Telling chil­dren they are not meet­ing your per­sonal mile­stones can be damaging, mak­ing them feel they are dis­ap­point­ing you or are not good enough.

It’s vi­tal for par­ents to un­der­stand that chil­dren de­velop at dif­fer­ent speeds and be­cause you gave birth to them doesn’t mean they are si­m­il­iar to you.

The “why can’t you be like your brother/ sis­ter” com­ment is equally damaging.

Al­though sib­ling ri­valry is some­times un­avoid­able, com­par­isons like these pro­mote harm­ful com­pe­ti­tion.

“Stop cry­ing,” I once said to my child, when I was feel­ing frus­trated and tired from a busy day at the of­fice, but I im­me­di­ately sensed how she felt when I said that.

From her point of view I was say­ing it’s bad to show emo­tions.

I re­gret­ted it and told my­self I would fix it in fu­ture to pre­vent her grow­ing up with­drawn, with hid­den emo­tions that would later de­velop into ag­gres­sion.

So the next time I tried a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, say­ing “tell mommy what’s both­er­ing you”, ini­ti­at­ing a con­ver­sa­tion which helped her iden­tify her emo­tions and me to un­der­stand how to help her feel bet­ter.

While it’s fine to sug­gest that your child should pre­pare bet­ter for fu­ture tasks or tests, ask­ing them why they didn’t do per­fectly is far from mo­ti­va­tional.

The “that’s not good enough” ex­pres­sion is not only mean, but it dis­re­gards the ef­fort the child made, dis­cour­ag­ing them or forc­ing them to set un­re­al­is­tic goals in fu­ture.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the ef­fort made and telling your child that you be­lieve in their abil­i­ties can work well to make them want to get bet­ter re­sults or per­form a task bet­ter.

It re­ally is about how you say it that counts.

And while it may seem harm­less to ask your child if you look fat, it’s said that many food and body im­age is­sues be­gin at a very ten­der age, and some­times as a re­sult of the ex­am­ple par­ents set for their chil­dren.

Telling your child how fat they are is also un­ac­cept­able.

Child­hood obe­sity is a prob­lem in many coun­tries, but that doesn’t war­rant a par­ent call­ing their child hurt­ful and deroga­tory names.

It won’t en­cour­age them to lose weight and leaves them with se­vere emo­tional scars and eat­ing disor­ders.

A thought­ful par­ent will teach his or her child health­ier eat­ing habits and get them in­ter­ested in fun work­outs in­stead.

While name-call­ing is not rec­om­mended in par­ent­ing, nor are ex­pres­sions such as “you’re the most beau­ti­ful”.

Such a phrase can set a stan­dard that is im­pos­si­ble to live up to, es­pe­cially in the shal­low im­age-fo­cused world we live in.

You wouldn’t want your child to mea­sure their self-worth by their looks and noth­ing else.

Not telling them how per­fect they are is also worth con­sid­er­ing as these words can backfire if the child feels they have fallen short of achiev­ing what their par­ents re­gard as per­fec­tion.

Be­ing a par­ent is al­ready a tough job with­out con­sid­er­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate and in­ap­pro­pri­ate things to say to or in front of a child. But it can have pos­i­tive re­sults in the fu­ture.

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