By: Laura Laing
Say what you mean and mean what you say – easier said than done, that’s for sure. When it comes to our kids, our words don’t always have the intended effect, even with the best intentions.
In recent years, some of the most common parental pronouncements have come under scrutiny from experts. Here’s a sample of things that you should consider banning from your vernacular.
What the heck is wrong with the word no? To be honest, absolutely nothing—unless it’s used for everything. Save the big guns for difficult situations, like when your tot is in mortal danger. Besides, “it’s far more effective to be specific and positive,” says Katherine Kersey, director of Old Dominion University’s Child Development Center. Instead of barking, “No!” when your four year old stands up in his chair at the dinner table, try saying, “Please sit on your bottom.”
2. “Wait until your father (or mother) gets home.”
This is one of those things you may think throughout the course of a day, but is rather best left unsaid. To fully reap the benefits of having another grown up in the family, parents should be like synchronized divers—stepping off the high platform together. That means not leaving the dirty work for your partner. Even if you do hand Junior over as soon as Daddy or Mommy walks through the door, it’s best to make the big parenting decisions together. Additionally, you don’t want to feel responsible for instilling a sense of fear in your child for one parent or the other. This could be a detrimental mistake that has the potential to create an awkward relationship as your child grows older.
3. “You’re the greatest!”
Of course your child is the best thing since DVR, but too much unspecific praise can go to our kids’ heads. Worse, these comments can create pressure for perfection. Experts advise us to be specific and child-centered. Try the following, “You must be very proud of that drawing. I like how you drew a big smile on the sun.” Statements like these allow for greater self-esteem, say Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
4. “We’ll see.”
You’ve got 20 phone calls to make, bills to pay, and a load of laundry to fold, but it is now that your child wants to know if she can have a friend over for a sleepover. “We’ll see” is a pause button for those times when you just can’t handle another decision. But this age-old ploy may very well say to your child that you’re too busy or distracted for her. This in turn provokes your child to continue to ask the same question until you are so annoyed with the constant nagging that you make a rash decision. Instead, ask her to check in with you later. Or, if you’re just delaying the inevitable no, bite the bullet and give it to her straight.
5. “Give Aunt Millie a kiss!”
Would you snuggle up to someone just because you were told to? Kids are no different, and for a variety of reasons it’s a good idea to respect their sense of personal space. Forcing your child to hug, kiss, or show affection to someone sends the message that he doesn’t have control. Kids need to be certain that they can say no to unwanted physical attention, starting at a young age, so that as they develop and grow they will know how to handle situations that they may be placed in.
6. “Calm down.”
If your child is hyperventilating or won’t sit still for emergency medical treatment, this phrase may not be so bad. But for ordinary emotions—even those expressed in ways that would rival a soap star’s performance—“calm down” may translate to: “Your feelings don’t matter.” Swallow your frustration with your child’s theatrics and simply say, “Wow, you’re mad/sad/frustrated, let’s work through this.” You never want to let your child feel as though the expression of emotion is a bad thing, because the alternative – a child that shows little to no emotion – is not easy to handle, either.
7. “When I’m right, I’m right, and when I’m wrong, I’m still right.”
It is okay for your kids to know that you’re not perfect -- really! In fact, they already know it. Experts agree that it’s better for parents to fess up to mistakes than to pull rank. “When you say, ‘I shouldn't have done that,’ your child will have a rock-solid sense that her feelings matter to the people who are most important in her life,” writes John Gottman, Ph.D., author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Additionally, you don’t want to encourage your children to always be on a quest to be right, because as the phrase goes, no one is perfect.
8. “Don’t say that.”
My mother was mortified when my sister once pointed at a frizzy-haired woman at the grocery store and shouted with wide-eyed wonder, “Look at the witch!” Looking back I can say that my sister wasn’t being rude; she was simply being a kid. Whether the difference is race, ethnicity, orientation, physical abilities, or appearance, these experiences are perfect opportunities to delve into kids’ thoughts about diversity, at which point you should share your own. Don’t shut down the conversation, but rather welcome the open dialogue. As for the inappropriate comments, that is something that you need to discuss with your child, however, do not silence them, as silence taught to a child can breed into an emotional and mental issue later in life, says Tammy Gold, a parenting coach.
9. “Let me help you.”
It can be heartbreaking to watch a frustrated child. But sometimes it doesn’t pay to don the superhero cape. The more challenges children overcome, the prouder they’ll feel, says Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, author of Great Kids. You are setting your child up for failure when you mollycoddle them and make problems magically go away. The only way to overcome challenge is to face it head on.
10. “Don’t make me turn this car around!”
There’s not much worse than a car ride with an unruly child (or two or three). But this well-worn threat is just that—a threat. When you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve already lost control, even from the driver’s seat. If you want to head home, just do it, but don’t give your children the authority to make that decision for you.