The new parent may often be in a state of exhaustion and wonder, “why has no one written that parent manual?” Of course, you can’t raise a child by following instructions in a book. Every person is different and two people can respond to something in very different ways. Over the course of generations, some general rules and instructions have taken hold. Some of these are excellent, but some of them do more harm than good. Here are 7 familiar sayings that, upon closer inspection, are things you should avoid using with your children.
You will find as we work through this list that blanket statements are generally things you want to avoid. This is one example. Social psychologist and bestselling author Susan Newman says, “It is far more helpful in terms of encouragement and building self-esteem if you focus on how your child achieved whatever he or she accomplished.” If your child drew a nice picture, you can ask, “What made you choose those pretty colors?” or “How did you figure out the design/shape?” Newman adds that reactions like these get a child thinking about the process and working toward a goal.
“We can’t afford that.”
While this may be a true statement at the moment, or a foolproof way of ending a relentless stream of requests for the newest, latest and greatest insert-name-of-material-possession-here, this statement also sends the message that you are not in control of your finances. Remember that the kids are watching – if you say you can’t afford the toy the child wants, and then make a high-end purchase in a different category, they will notice, and probably remind you. Who wants that argument? Instead, offer the child a chance to contribute to what (s)he wants by saving money regularly. This will help the child develop financial skills at a young age, as well as the message that if you want something that is out of reach, you have the power to change the situation through careful planning.
“No dessert until you finish your dinner.”
This is one of those phrases with good intentions that went a little sideways. The intent is wanting the child to have a full, nourishing meal without loading up on sugar. But if this angle is pushed too strongly, the child ends up placing a much higher value on the dessert because it’s being withheld as a condition of another action. You should steer the child toward a more desirable order – “First we will eat dinner, then we will all have dessert.” This takes dessert out of a higher-priority spot in the child’s mind, and leaves no unintended consequence of other foods being not as good as dessert – the opposite of what you truly want them to think.
“Let me help.”
The child is struggling to finish a puzzle, finish a homework assignment, or build a block tower. Mommy and/or Daddy are ready to swoop down and save the day, and even offer a helpful-sounding “let me help you.” Resist such temptations. “If you jump in too soon, that can undermine your child’s independence because he’ll always be looking to others for answers,” says Myrna Shure, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at Drexel University. Further, Dr. Katharine Kersey, professor of early childhood education at Old Dominion University suggests aiming for a more collaborative approach, suggesting that it would be best to say, “Let’s do it together!”
“Everything will be OK.”
Children see the tragic stories on the news just as we do. Address their concerns rather than brushing them off. Newman notes it’s “better to explain how you as a parent will do everything you can to keep your child safe.” If something doesn’t go as planned, such as not making the team, saying everything will be OK doesn’t prepare the child for the unexpected turns life always takes. Maybe your kid just needs to put in more practice time. If that’s the case, comfort them with a hug and acknowledge their feelings by saying, “I know you really wanted to get picked today, but there will be many more opportunities.” Then, encourage them to keep practicing and try again when they feel ready. By coaching and guiding your kids through tough times, they’ll be better equipped to handle things that don’t work out fine in the future.
”Don’t talk to strangers.”
This is a tough one, considering we see a new story on the news about an abducted child every other day. You obviously want to keep your child from harm. But blanket statements such as this would also instruct the child to not talk to police officers or firefighters the child doesn’t know. Nancy McBride, executive director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Florida Regional Office, suggests discussing scenarios instead. “What if someone you don’t know offers you candy and a ride home?” You can then guide the child to the proper response. “Don’t talk to strangers” won’t even help in most abduction cases, as many such children know the kidnapper. McBride also offers this as an alternative blanket statement: “If anyone makes you feel sad, scared, or confused, you need to tell me right away.”
“Because I said so.”
It would probably be easier to count the number of adults that did NOT hear this phrase fairly regularly growing up. It is probably the most-used parental cliché. But you should avoid it. For one, it is as likely to inspire rebellion as anything else if the child truly doesn’t understand why a request was met with this response. It’s better to provide context to why you will not take your daughter to see Suzie today when she asks. “I know you want to see her, but we need to do laundry because we’re all out of clean clothes. So how about you help me with the laundry and we’ll see her tomorrow?” The child feels heard and valued and is left with a potential reward to look forward to.