At one time or another, we've all said something to our children we regretted. But how do our words affect our kids? Even if you feel like your children are rarely listening, you can be sure they'll hear when you utter something you shouldn't. Try not to say things to your children that will make them feel unimportant or that are intended to hurt their feelings. According to a clinical report published in July of 2012 in Pediatrics, psychological abuse can be as destructive to children's physical, mental and emotional health as some types of physical abuse.
One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is comparing a child to someone else in a negative way. Comparing siblings, for example, is one of the fastest ways to promote rivalry and jealousy among your children. The first sentence to avoid is "Why can't you be like your brother or sister?" Try to treat your children as unique individuals. Second, avoid comparing a child to his friends. "Why can't he do what Tim does?" you might think to yourself. Don't say it out loud. Children are in the process of building identities, and their self-esteem is easily damaged when they don't feel as good as their peers. Third, avoid comparing your child to yourself or his other parent. The question "Why can't you be more like me or dad?" quickly gives a child the feeling that he is not good enough.
Parents often dismiss their children when they're tired, annoyed, distracted or busy. The fourth sentence you should try not to use is "Go away." Of course, you won't always want your kids around. But, instead of curtly dismissing them, say "I need to be alone for a bit. Can you play in your room right now, and we'll spend time together later?" A fifth sentence to avoid is "Stop wasting my time." Children need to feel that their ideas are important. Say "I'm interested in this conversation. Let's talk during dinner." Sixth, try not to say "I don't care." This statement implies that you do not value your children's thoughts or feelings. If you've made steak for dinner and they claim not to like it, you may be frustrated. Tell them that the family is having steak tonight, and compromise by asking what they'd prefer tomorrow. The seventh inappropriate comment is "Whatever." Parents don't like when their kids use this word with them, so they should model correct behavior and not use it with their children.
Parents are entitled to tease their kids sometimes. But when is teasing is hurtful or overly condescending? The eighth sentence you shouldn't say is "Stop being a cry baby." No child likes to feel belittled. Kids certainly don't want to be viewed as being younger than they are. Children can't always control their emotions, and they shouldn't be criticized for that. The ninth inappropriate parental comment is "What's wrong with you?" Making kids feel worse about themselves will not help them build self-control or make them any tougher; it will do the opposite.
Just as we tell our children not to call people names, we shouldn't call our children names. A tenth mistake is insulting your kids with words. If your child does something unwise, don't call him dumb. Avoid using "stupid," "brat" or even "bad boy." Children internalize insults. Name-calling is unlikely to help a child improve negative behavior. Instead, explain that the behavior is bad, not the child -- and talk about why the behavior is unacceptable so the child can learn.
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