The Seven Worst Things to Say to Your Child
- Monday, January 20, 2003
In an effort to influence Caitlin's behavior in the grocery store, her father told her, "If you don't stop that. I'm going to leave you here."
Following Mack's confession that he had helped himself to recently baked cookies, his mother scolded him, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Both parents were attempting to control their children. Both believed they were providing love and direction. Both potentially harmed their children by using Parent Talk that wounds the spirit.
Our style of Parent Talk and the words we use to communicate are critically important to the self-esteem, emotional health, and personal empowerment of our children. There is an undeniable link between the words we use and the attitudes and outcomes they create in their lives.
Words can empower and words can wound. They can nurture or shame, encourage or scold, uplift or bring down.
No parent wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself or herself, "Now, I wonder what I can say today that will build negative core beliefs in my children, tear down their confidence, and leave them feeling dependent and out of control." Yet, parents often do just that, unintentionally, because they don't understand the full impact of their words.
Here are the seven worst things you can say to your child.
1. "If you don't stop that, I'm going to leave you here."
A young child's worst fear is that he or she will be lost or left alone and unsafe. Threatening a child by playing into that fear of abandonment in an effort to manipulate him into a desirable behavior is a sure sign that the parent needs to be in time-out.
One alternative is to give your child a choice. Instead of scaring your son, tell him, "Brian, if you keep choosing that behavior we'll go home. If you choose to talk in a normal voice we'll stay and shop. You decide."
Another alternative is to stop and take a break. It just might be that one or both of you needs a rest or a nap.
2. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
This Parent Talk is an attempt to create guilt in the heart of the recipient. The belief is that if the child can be shamed into feeling guilty, she'll change her behavior and do what we desire.
There are times when shaming works and produces the behavior we want from a child. But at what price? Along with the shame and guilt come core beliefs of"I am wrong," "I'm not enough," and "I can never do anything right." When children act out of these core beliefs, they attract more shaming, which confirms their beliefs and perpetuates the cycle of behaviors that elicit further shaming responses.
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