Phrases Parents Should Eliminate


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Because parents play an important role in their children's lives they have a big impact on them, especially the things they say to them in the course of raising them. Most parents I know want to do the best job they can raise their kids. The problem is that we get impatient, upset, or feel put upon and say things that we shouldn't.

Sometimes parents slip and know they slip. When a parent calls a kid a stupid jerk he/she knows that this in inappropriate and, after saying something like this, parents usually vow never to say anything like that again. Obvious yelling or derogatory statements are things that a good parent is able to eliminate. But some of the things we say seem to come out of our mouth naturally. They may be the same things our parents said to us that we didn't like.

Letís review some of the common phrases used, that on the surface appear ok, but are actually harmful. Because these phrases are so common, it is hard to think of what to say instead so some alternatives will also be suggested.

"How could you do such a thing?" This is a silly question because the parent probably already knows "how" the child did what he or she did. What the parent really means is, "What you did is out of character. It is not like you. I believe that you will do things differently next time. In fact, why don't you tell me what you will do next time? I will listen closely and give you some suggestions if you want them. In the mean time here are some things I must do because of your lack of judgment at this time."

"Now, look what you have done?" I don't think the parent really wants the child to look at what has been done but rather to understand the problems his/her behavior has caused others. What the parent really means is, "Your behavior is unacceptable. You have caused some problems that need to be addressed. How do you plan on correcting the situation and do you need my help or not?"

"I'm really disappointed in you." When the cheerleader is down on the team, the team has a hard time giving their all. The same is true with a child. The child may think, "If my Mom or Dad thinks I'm a failure, it must be true." What a child needs to hear when they have messed up is, "Looks like youíre really goofed up. What did you learn from this? I have faith that you'll be able to do things different next time."

There are other phrases that fall into the category of those already addressed. Here are some of them: "Can't you do anything right?" "Where is your brain?" "Why didn't you think of that before you got in trouble?" "Do I have to think of everything around her?" "Who do you think you are, anyway?" "I've told you over and over not to do that." "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times not to do that."

Eliminating such statements in our interaction with our children requires a parent to give up the desire to control the child. The parent must give up the idea that when a child misbehaves that the parent must "fix it" or come up with a solution.

The parent needs to develop a "laid back" attitude and learn to enjoy being an observer. Then, when a child goofs it is then easier to see the problem as the child's problem. When the parent can recognize that the child is responsible for his/her behavior then the parent can think about things that can be done to help the child recognize alternatives to the unwise or deviant behavior rather than condemning the child.

With this approach it will be easier to "coach" the child rather then "condemn" the child. But the real payoff is not the change in your child's behavior. (If they decide to change because they sense you have faith in them that is their decision.) The real payoff is the fact that you feel better about yourself.