Growing Great Families – What you shouldn’t say to your children
In our travels and work with families we try to tune in to how parents are communicating with their children. At times we just want to hit the pause button and give the parents some feedback on why what they are doing or saying simply won‘t work. Since that is not possible, we decided to summarize the most common declarations of frustrated parents and suggest alternatives ways of approaching a situation. It is important to understand that none of us are perfect and from time to time we might say something to our kids that we regret.
The problem is when we make a habit of these responses and become chronic abusers of things we shouldn’t say. For example, parents will often respond to an upset child, especially a teen, with, “I know how you feel.” On the surface this appears like a caring response. However, most of us believe that what we are feeling is unique to us as an individual and someone else could never really know how we feel. A better response might be, “You really seem upset right now.” The difference is that in the second retort you are validating how the other person is feeling without comparison to yourself. This opens the door for further problem solving with the child rather than being dismissed with, “You are not me, you don’t know how I feel.” Another example is something we hear quite often from frustrated parents, “If you don’t cut it out you will (get a spanking, be grounded for a week or something equally harsh),” The problem is that the parent is probably angry and not thinking clearly and the threats will be difficult to carry out. In addition, the child is learning to continue an inappropriate behavior until the parent makes a threat.
We discuss other common communication mistakes, such as using always and never, telling a child to just get over it or stop crying – big boys don’t cry and telling your child not to hang around with__________. Again we provide alternative strategies to help parents avoid some of the knee jerk responses that really do not lend themselves to sound discipline.