There’s this episode of Louie where Louie C.K. describes bending over his small daughter and yelling with his finger wagging in her face. And suddenly he realizes, “I’m her first [a-hole].”
Haven’t we all been there? When we realize that we’re acting a little jerky to our kids?
Maybe you never think about it — maybe you assume that admitting something like that undercuts your authority. But c’mon. There have to be times when words tumble out of your mouth out of exhaustion or stress or distraction. Or times when you say something because it was always said to you as a kid, and you don’t even think about the message behind your words.
But maybe we should think about those messages a little more.
I don’t pretend to be a perfect parent — not even in the slightest — but I try and be mindful and thoughtful about the lessons I’m teaching my son. And in that spirit, here are 10 things I’m trying to stop saying to kids…
Why Do We Say These Things to Kids? 1 of 11
Here are 10 phrases I'm trying to limit in our everyday conversations...
"You’re so smart!" "You’re so pretty!" "You’re so cute!" 2 of 11
I'm insanely guilty of this one, given that I'm constantly muttering, "ohmygosh you're so smart" under my breath. To me, of course, I mean, "You're so smart given the fact you were barely talking two years ago and HOLY COW the progress!" To kids, however, that's like blanketing them with an identity that could backfire years down the road.
According to (many, many) studies, it's better to praise a kid's effort than to make blanket statements like,"You're so ____." It sounds like you're building up their self-esteem, sure, but you're actually running the risk of building a fear of failure. If he fails a quiz, will I stop thinking that he's smart? And if I stop thinking that he's smart, what does that mean about who he *is*?
This might be especially important when it comes to the way a kid looks — like "you're so pretty/handsome/cute!" When a kid is constantly told this from not only parents but friends and strangers, is that healthy? While I CERTAINLY think little girls and boys should be told that they look good (high-five, girlfriend!), where's the line? When do they start absorbing those statements as part of their identity? And I know from personal experience that the pseudo-identities formed during childhood (those perceptions and opinions we've always had about ourselves) are the hardest to shake.
"You have the BEST memory!" 3 of 11
This is another "identity" label that we put on kids, pinning them as being the "best" at something from a very early age. (Earlier than they can really be the "best" at anything, you might argue.) But I do it ALL THE TIME because, holy moly, my son has the best memory. He's been told he has the best memory from his earliest memories, and he's not afraid to claim that title now.
And that's when I realized it's time to pull back on the reigns. Does he have an impressive memory? Yes. Does he have the BEST memory? I mean, probably not. But he certainly thinks he does.
"WHY? Because I said so!" 4 of 11
This is another thing I actively and consciously avoid saying, even though it's easy to let slip. I let him know that he can always ask "why," and the why is usually answered in one question: "To keep you safe and healthy."
I have my reasons — why shouldn't he know them? I feel like it's important for kids to ask questions, even to authority. It doesn't mean he can be disrespectful or disobedient, but he tends to have less tantrums when he understands the reasoning behind my rules.
"You’re being a bad boy right now!" 5 of 11
Bad behavior does not equal a bad person.
"Don’t cry." 6 of 11
Everyone cries — including boys. I don't want him to ever think that it's wrong to be vulnerable or show emotions. He's human.
"Stop acting like a little girl. MAN UP!" 7 of 11
Joe Ehrmann, Coach for America, said, "The three most destructive words that every man receives when he's a boy is, 'Be a man'." And I have to agree. In my post "The Challenges of Raising a Good Man," I dived right into this issue — including an anecdote about a little boy being taunted by his own mother ("Are you a little girl?" she asked her crying boy).
I cringe at the thought of my son being told, "Be a man!" or "MAN UP!" Being a man is not synonymous with sucking down your emotions — just as "being a lady" is not synonymous with being meek and obedient and modest. We need to tell kids to BE THEMSELVES. End of story.
"HURRY!" 8 of 11
"I was a bully who pushed and pressured and hurried a small child who simply wanted to enjoy life."
And so I eliminated the phrase from my vocabulary, as well. He can take his time walking down the stairs toward the door. He can take his time picking some grass on the way to the car. He can take some time to look at the bird and breathe in the air and notice life. To live and appreciate. Why am I always in such a hurry? It's more about poor time management than reality.
"It’s not a big deal." 9 of 11
Except that it is a big deal to them. Don't you remember being a kid? At that time, in that moment, the issues kids have are real and important. Don't belittle their feelings. Empathize (we all know kids nowadays need more empathy lessons!).
"Why can’t you be more like _____?" 10 of 11
We've all been told this as a kid, and we all know how much it stings. Stop the comparisons! Stop them now!
"You are making me feel _____." 11 of 11
Brenna Hicks, a child therapist from The Kid Counselor, posted a bunch of things to avoid saying — like, "Wait until Dad gets home!" or tacking "...okay?" on to end of non-negotiable statements. But this one is my favorite: "You are making me really mad right now."
Because no one can *make* you feel anything. You choose to feel a certain way. (That's some Eleanor Roosevelt knowledge, right there.)
As Hicks wrote, "Parents tend to let their children control their emotions, when it is the parent who is ultimately responsible for how they feel. It is also important for kids to understand that they choose what they feel, and they are not creating emotions in you." Instead, she suggests, use "I feel" statements like, "I am angry right now." We shouldn't be placing the burden on our kids.