3 more unhelpful things we parents say to our kids (Part 2)

3 more unhelpful things we parents say to our kids (Part 2)

Recently, I posted about unhelpful things we say to our kids and this is part 2 of that discussion! Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas for the unhelpful things we say. Keep your ideas coming!

Today, I want to focus on 3 additional things I say (unfortunately!) and hear many other parents say, when I know that isn’t what we really mean. And that isn’t making words matter for good!  So let’s find some better ways to say these common phrases.

Unhelpful saying #4:    You are acting like a _______________.

I hear this fairly frequently: “You are acting like a brat.”  or  “You are acting like a baby.”  And when the child cries or protests and says, “You just called me a brat!” – the parent responds with… “I didn’t call you a brat. I said you were ACTING like a brat.”  Let me tell you the truth here….all they HEAR is that they are a brat. They do not differentiate between “acting like” and actually being called that name.

Now take a minute to really reflect. If you were at work and your coworker said, “You are acting like a jerk.” Would you be able to hear anything but JERK? And truthfully, wouldn’t that be the one thing you focused on for several hours or days?? If we are really honest with ourselves, if we were to flip the switch here and someone said that to us, we wouldn’t buy the “acting like” story either.

Instead: First consider how you actually are feeling in that moment when you say, “You are acting like a _______.” For most of us, we say things like this when we are frustrated or angry. And those emotions are totally acceptable to feel around our kids and even because of our kids. But instead of calling them a name ( a brat or a baby…), actually tell them how you feel. This does two things: first, it teaches them emotional expression. It teaches them that it is okay to feel and then talk about those feelings (The very thing you often want them to talk about in other moments!). And second, it teaches them exactly what is happening in that moment. Saying, “I feel really frustrated that you aren’t listening to me.” or “I feel angry that I am doing all of the work and you are watching TV.” or “I feel disappointed that you are focusing only on the negative parts of today, when I tried really hard to make it a good day.”   Notice: These statements start with “I feel _______ (insert FEELING WORD).”   Please don’t say, “I feel like you are being a brat.”  🙂  That is not a feeling word. That is an opinion. An unfortunately unhelpful opinion at the current time.

Can you see how these statements make it clearer to your child what is really happening in the current situation and how to better express their feelings?  And you might be surprised at how much better they respond when you are focusing on being clearer with how you are feeling as well. I am often shocked at how well my own kids respond to me after I have screwed it up, then come back to fix it with this method and they will say things like, “I’m sorry I made you frustrated mommy.”  or  “I’m sorry I wasn’t listening.”  When we start from a place of vulnerability with them, they enter into that space with us. And what I have learned over and again, I can’t move into a place of being vulnerable until I can take a breath to pause my own emotional impulse to really tune in to what would be helpful in that moment.

Unhelpful saying #5:   Because I said so.

Many of us grew up hearing this. Many of us still say this when we want the negotiating or arguing to stop. The real problem with “Because I said so” is that it sounds like we are fighting to be on the top of a power trip. And for some of us who have a child who also wants that control, “Because I said so” will only fuel continued arguing. Beyond that, sometimes our kids ask “Why do we have to do that?” because they genuinely want to understand why something is happening in their world. Other times, they are asking, “Why do we have to do that?” because they are trying to protest. Either way, this is a teachable moment to help your child to understand their world and communicate more clearly about how he/she feels.

Instead: If your child is asking, “Why do we have to…”, I first recommend explaining why you are requiring them to do that particular thing. Sometimes this illuminates some interesting things for us as parents. If you aren’t really sure why you are doing something, perhaps you can decide next time that you don’t have to require them to do that thing. For instance, we came home from the pool a couple of days ago around 5pm. I immediately told my kids to go take a shower because in my mind, it made more logical sense for them to take their already wet bodies into the shower (since they were changing out of their bathing suits anyways!). But they protested and said they wanted to take a shower later (before bed like they normally do). They asked, “Why do we have to take a shower now?”  For me, it made more sense. For them, it didn’t. And this is the moment when I am tempted to say, “Because I said so.”

But instead, I think we have an opportunity to pause here and consider. Do we have a reasonable explanation for why they have to take a shower – other than…well that is the way I think it should be done?  If we don’t, then perhaps we honor their wishes. If we do, then share that when they protest. For instance, my daughter sometimes has a tendency to “forget” later. So sometimes my answer to the “why do we have to do it NOW?” question is, “Because in the past you have forgotten to do it, so it is better just to get it done now.”

If your child is whining and asking, “Why do we have to do that?” and you have already explained it and they continue to whine, this is an opportunity to talk to them about being clearer about what they are saying, too. For instance, you could tell your child, “I have already explained why we have to do this. I can tell you are asking because you don’t really want to go to the store with me. Instead of whining and continuing to ask why, you could say, ‘Mom, I really don’t like going to the store because it always takes such a long time.'” Although this might seem like a waste of time or like your child won’t actually say that in that moment, you are planting seeds of how to communicate more clearly. After you do that twice or three or four times, you will begin to hear your child sharing more about how they feel about things. Just give it a try and enjoy the fruits of that labor later down the road!

Unhelpful saying #6:   I’m going to leave you.

Upon first reading this, many of you probably thought to yourself…”I would never leave my child.”  Perhaps some of you even thought, I would never say that.  But imagine the moment when you are hustling to get out the door and your child isn’t moving quite as quickly as you would like him/her to move. And you say, “If you don’t hurry up, we are going to leave without you!”  OOPS.

There are multiple reasons why this isn’t a helpful saying. First, what we are TRYING to accomplish in saying this, is “hurry up!” and likely what actually happens is a total, def-con five meltdown. Second, at the foundation, all the matters to our kids is safety. And belonging. And trust. And when we threaten to leave, it can shatter that safety, belonging, and trust pretty quickly.

Instead: Say what you mean. “We are really in a hurry to get out the door. It doesn’t look like you have gotten all of your things together. How can I help you to speed up this process so we aren’t late?” This would probably not be the time to enforce consequences. Threatening to take things away during this time is not likely to make his/her speed move more quickly. Doing that will likely increase his/her emotional state, only causing more distraction. Wait until after you are in the car to have a discussion about how you want him or her to behave differently next time and ask what they think could have been different in that moment. For instance, “It took you longer to get ready to go that I thought it should. What do you think we could do differently to make sure we are stressed next time it is time to leave?” Saying something like this also gives your child the message that you are also there to support him or her as they are considering how to make changes. This will go a long way for your child.

This next part may be harder to hear. The other thing about timing is that most often, if we are in a hurry, it is because we, as the parents, haven’t prepared well enough. Our kids have not mastered time management. Many of our kids can’t even read a clock! So they still need a lot of support from us, as parents, to help them become prepared for what is next. So if you are perpetually hurrying your kids out the door, it might require a shift in starting the transition earlier so it doesn’t become a stressful situation every time. Over the past 3 years, I had to learn this lesson over and over. I am a person who thinks, “I can just get one more thing done…” which almost always resulted in me running late, rushing my kids, and feeling stressed. Everything took longer with four kids. Everything. Just getting into the van still feels like a 30-minute-excursion!

For me, two things needed to change. First, I had to account for a 15 minute transition from the house to the vehicle. That’s right. 15 minutes. Perhaps for you, it is 5 minutes. But either way, there has to be transition time from shutting down what your child is playing with to getting loaded into the car. I find most people don’t consider this as they are preparing to arrive somewhere. Second, I needed to remember that there are some things that it is okay to be running late for.  Like arriving at the store. Or a family member’s home who invited us over.

Some of you will disagree with me here. Many of us see being late as disrespectful. And I agree with that. But I also have seen too many times when there is room for grace here. There are certain times when I believe it is better to be 5 minutes late to my parents’ dinner party than to arrive stressed and angry at my kid (whereby we just had a 30 minute screamfest because he was dawdling as we were leaving). I would much rather have a peaceful transition than arrive exactly on time. Then – learn that tomorrow, when it is time to leave, I have to prepare more time for that transition.


Feel free to keep the “unhelpful” ideas coming! What other unhelpful things do you say or hear others saying?


photo cred: pixabay.com, mintchipdesigns