I came across a great article and I want to highlight it here for you. This is the first part of a series of 3 posts because I wanted to keep them short and to the point.
We all say the wrong thing sometimes, leaving our kids feeling hurt, angry, or confused. Read on for some of the most common verbal missteps moms and dads make, and kinder, gentler alternatives:
#1. 'Leave me alone!'
A parent who doesn't crave an occasional break is a saint, a martyr, or someone who's so overdue for some time alone she's forgotten the benefits of recharging.
Trouble is, when you routinely tell your kids, "Don't bother me" or "I'm busy," they internalize that message.
"They begin to think there's no point in talking to you because you're always brushing them off." If you set up that pattern when your children are small, then they may be less likely to tell you things as they get older.
From infancy, kids should get in the habit of seeing their parents take time for themselves. Use pressure-release valves -- whether signing up with a babysitting co-op, trading off childcare with your partner or a friend, or even parking your child in front of a video so that you can have half an hour to relax and regroup.
At those times when you're preoccupied, or over-stressed, set up some parameters in advance. I might have said, "Mom has to finish this one thing, so I need you to paint quietly for a few minutes. When I'm done, we'll go outside."
#2. 'You're so...'
Labels are shortcuts that shortchange kids: "Why are you so mean to Katie?" Or "How could you be such a klutz?" Sometimes kids overhear us talking to others: "She's my shy one."
Young children believe what they hear without question, even when it's about themselves. So negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thomas gets the message that meanness is his nature. "Klutzy" Sarah begins to think of herself that way, undermining her confidence. Even labels that seem neutral or positive -- "shy" or "smart" -- pigeonhole a child and place unnecessary or inappropriate expectations on her.
The worst ones cut dangerously deep. Many a parent can still vividly, and bitterly, remember when her own parent said something like "You're so hopeless" (or "lazy" or "stupid").
A far better approach is to address the specific behavior and leave the adjectives about your child's personality out of it. For example, "Katie's feelings were hurt when you told everyone not to play with her. How can we make her feel better?"
#3. 'Don't cry'
Variations: "Don't be sad." "Don't be a baby." "Now, now -- there's no reason to be afraid." But kids do get upset enough to cry, especially toddlers, who can't always articulate their feelings with words. They do get sad. They do get frightened.
"It's natural to want to protect a child from such feelings, but saying 'Don't be' doesn't make a child feel better, and it also can send the message that his emotions aren't valid -- that it's not okay to be sad or scared."
Rather than deny that your child feels a particular way -- when he obviously does -- acknowledge the emotion up front.
"It must make you really sad when Jason says he doesn't want to be your friend anymore." "Yes, the waves sure can be scary when you're not used to them. But we'll just stand here together and let them tickle our feet. I promise I won't let go of your hand."
By naming the real feelings that your child has, you'll give him the words to express himself -- and you'll show him what it means to be empathetic. Ultimately, he'll cry less and describe his emotions instead.