As parents, we do a lot of talking. We talk to our children on a daily basis, relaying vital information (don’t forget to wear your seatbelt) and basic information (please don’t leave your socks on the floor.) But sometimes, as parents, we don’t realize the weight our words have on our children. Peggy O’Mara once said “the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” That is really powerful if you think about it. The way we talk to our kids becomes the way they think about themselves. Read the following list and see if you’ve said any of these things to your child recently. If so, make an effort to switch up what you’re saying and how you say it, to create a more confident and positive inner voice for your child.
“You’re so….” By labeling your child as anything negative (you’re so lazy, you’re so dumb, you’re so stubborn, you’re so mean, clumsy, messy, forgetful) they begin to internalize these comments and believe them to be true. Even seemingly harmless labels like “talkative” or “shy”, said enough times to a child, can make a child believe he/she can only be those things. Instead, focus on the actual behavior and the consequences it has on the child and those around them. Instead of “you’re so mean” you could say “When you left all of your art supplies all over the floor, it made me feel like you didn’t appreciate that I just cleaned the house. And your little sister could have choked on the tiny pieces. What could we do better next time.” Focusing on the behavior helps your child understand that even if their choices are bad, they are not bad.
“Don’t Cry” Everyone has cried over a seemingly impossible math assignment before. Parents AND students. There are just some nights when kids are too tired, too overwhelmed and too exhausted. What is NOT helpful is to criticize an emotional student by saying “don’t cry” or “don’t be a wimp” or “stop getting so emotional.” These harsh commands won’t generate a suddenly happy child, and could give them the impression that showing sadness, frustration or any other negative emotion is a sign of weakness. Instead of telling them not to feel a certain way, acknowledge the feelings and give your child the words to use for the particular moment. “I see that this math homework has you really worked up, and I totally get that. Why don’t we take a break until you calm down and figure out a different way to approach it?
“Why Can’t You Be More Like….” Comparison is the enemy of contentment. When your child hears you constantly compare her to her sister, cousin or girl down the street, she quickly becomes dissatisfied with who she is and what she has to offer. Comparing your child to someone else’s child send the message that you wish your child was different, or more like someone else. It may feel like you are encouraging your child to strive for their best, but by comparing them to someone else, you are encouraging them to be like someone else’s best. Instead, focus on their individual strengths and praise their accomplishments and the things that make them unique.
“You know better than that!” Most of the time, the child DIDN’T know any better, which is why he made the mistake in the first place. When it comes to math homework or math tests, saying “you know better than that!” when pointing out a mistake is neither supportive nor productive. Pointing out, or assuming, that they did something even though they knew it was wrong doesn’t fix the problem, and can make the situation more tense. Instead, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they make the choice or mistake because they didn’t know any better, and be specific about how they could fix their mistake or change their behavior next time.
Being a parent is not easy, and we all mess it up sometimes. So next time, before you sit down with an overwhelmed student trying to finish their math homework, think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. Remember, the way you talk to them becomes the way they think about themselves. Give them positive, affirming and helpful words to use when they think about themselves. It will change who they are as a person.