Talking so kids can understand

Well-meaning parents may be causing emotional and psychological damage when communicating with their children. No-matter how well intended common words and phrases may be, they are not what children are hearing.

This is according to an article in July edition of Reader’s Digest South Africa. The article says parents need to replace damaging words in their vocabulary with character building alternatives. Below are a few things that parents should and should not say to their children.

1. What you say: “You’re the best!”

What they hear: “Your job in life is to make me happy.”

What you should say: “You should be proud of how hard you worked.”

Experts are now learning that too much praise can backfire. The effect is that children understand that parents only love them when they achieve the most.

2. What you say: “Watch your language!”

What they hear: “I’ve tuned out to what you are really trying to say.”

What you should say: “I’m so glad you came to talk to me, but I have one request for the future. I find that word offensive, so please don’t use it.”

Children using slang are often using it to establish their own identity in the adult world. Parents need to discuss with their child why they feel the word is inappropriate and be prepared to listen to the child’s perspective on the issue.

3. What you say: “We can’t afford that.”

What they hear: “Money is the answer to everything.”

What you should say: “The mall is filled with great things today, but we’ve go lots at home already and we’re not going to take home anything more.”

By repeatedly saying money is the reason she can’t have something, the parent is sending the message that money is the source of all good things in life. In this way children will never learn the meaning of excess or gratitude.

4. What you say: “Don’t worry – it’ll be ok.”

What they hear: “You’re such a drama queen!”

What you should say: “I totally understand what you must have gone through. Tell me about it.”

When a parent is really able to listen to their child and acknowledge their inner hurt, fear or anger, the child’s feelings decrease and they start to feel they are able to cope and find their own solutions to the problem.

(Originally published in Reader’s Digest, July 2008).

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