The saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” has a lot of truth. Parents like to think they have the most influence and control over their offspring but their friends, peers, teachers, and all sorts of other well-intentioned adults have a lot to say to kids today.
We were all children once, after all, even if we never became parents. Thus, there is a strong tendency among many of us to identify with youth compassionately and with the best intentions.
The next time you are out in a public place (say, the grocery store) where children are present. Pay some attention to who is talking to them and what they are saying. How many times will you hear the following top five things you NEVER want to say to any child?
- I’m disappointed in you.”
Children – all of us – crave affection, acceptance, approval, inclusion, and (above all) love. If you find yourself in a situation where you are about to share your disappoint with a child’s actions, reflect first: why are you disappointed? Did you really expect different behavior from this child?
Any adult who is about to tell a child they don’t measure up is adding insult to injury. Something happened which prompted this phrase to pop into your head. Perhaps one or both of your parents used this expression on you? If so, how did that make you feel? Did you try to do better or, instead, retreat, eyes stinging from held-back tears?
Unless the disapproving adult is a brick or a rock, any kid on the planet will know from the facial expression that this adult is feeling very let-down based on the child’s bad comportment.
Don’t add to the poor kid’s suffering. Never speak these four words.
- “Why do I have to tell you everything a thousand times?”
Teachers complain to their students and parents repeat this exaggerated question more often than you might realize. Adults tend to take memorized facts and assorted knowledge based on years of experience for granted, having forgotten what it was like to be young and ignorant (uneducated).
Adults who find themselves repeating what they say to a younger audience might benefit from recording these interactions to review in a calm moment. Consider the quality of communication in terms of content and emotional delivery. Would you want to listen to you?
Make sure that when you are talking you have your child’s full attention. This will save you many words over the course of a lifetime.
Some kids need to have a visual cue to listen attentively. Make a ‘V’ with your index and middle fingers and point first at your own eyes and then extend your fingers toward their eyes. This is a very effective mental and visual focusing gesture that most kids seem to understand.
- “I’m just going to leave you here, then.”
Want to give your child an abandonment complex? Say you’re going to leave her or him behind. Sure, adults seldom really mean to follow through on this threat, even if they start toward the exit. But your kid, especially when very young, probably can’t tell when you are being serious and when you aren’t. Avoid undermining any child’s sense of security and well-being with doubts about your adult commitment to protect and nurture.
It is a very bad practice to make idle threats to a child, even partly in jest. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Set behavioral boundaries and consequences to uncooperative actions. For instance, rather than badger your child about taking out the garbage, say that failure to do so by a specific time will mean less TV or computer time (or whatever is appropriate). Be specific and always follow through.
Remember, as the parent or adult in the conversation, what you say goes. Although trying to explain or reason with kids works sometimes, let’s face it: small kids aren’t famous for logical decision-making. That’s one big reason why they need adults.
- “Don’t eat that or you’ll get fat.”
Americans are chronically obese. For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years, 13.7 million (18.5 percent) are very overweight. Thanks to Madison Avenue advertising and peer pressure, many heavy children are quite sensitive to being told – and teased – about their body fat.
It’s much better psychology to focus on the positive outcomes of eating healthy foods rather than brow-beat a kid about the fattening effects of chips and sugary drinks.
Stock as little junk food in your pantry as possible. Become enthused about fruits and vegetables. Share your delight over being able to fit into those skinny jeans. Post motivational images on the fridge, bathroom mirror, and computer monitor.
Focusing on body appearance and linking it to specific foods is most likely to make a kid anxious and produce low self-esteem, both of which trigger chemicals in the brain that make the child want to eat more starchy, carby substances. Don’t go there.
- “You can be anything you want to be.”
This is perhaps the biggest lie an adult uttered to an innocent youngster. First of all, the statement is false. Merely wanting (or wishing) for something to come true almost never makes it so. Setting goals and planning effective steps to get there, however, has a brilliant track record.
My 5′ 2″ mother said many times as I was growing up that she had, long ago, accepted the fact that, no matter how hard she wanted it, she would never be a fashion runway model due to her short height. In those days, she was right: all glamorous models were toweringly tall.
Effective parents make sure their children understood what is within their control (learning, for example) and what isn’t (physical traits that can’t be fixed by exercise or surgery).
Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman created a simple and humorous formula to share with everyone you know, including children:
Success = Talent + Luck. Great success = A little more talent + A Lot of Luck.
The hard, cold truth is that the sooner our kids understand their limitations, the sooner they can focus on meaningful choices to direct their paths in positive directions.