I have read many silly articles in mainstream parenting magazines that tell you that most things you say to your kids are wrong. I really hate when magazines make parents feel like crap for saying or doing normative things. I have compiled a list of things that conventional parenting magazines tell you not to say to your children and why. They are generally so absurd that it is almost too easy to make fun of them, but that will not stop me…
1. “Great Job.” Saying “Good girl” or “Way to go” every time your child masters a skill makes her dependent on your praise rather than being motivated intrinsically. Save the affirmations for when they’re really warranted, and be specific. Instead of “Super game,” say, “That was a nice assist. I like how you helped your teammate.”
Hey, I have an idea, every single goddamn time my kid does anything, and will not leave me the hell alone until I acknowledge it, I will sit there and come up with some ridiculously detailed specific thing to say about whatever it is she just did. Even if this thing is literally wiping her own ass. So I will say, “I really like how you wiped your ass by yourself. You took off the perfect amount of toilet paper and folded it neatly, and wiped your ass in a top to bottom motion. Then you flushed without me asking.”
Not in this lifetime. I will say, as I nurse the baby while prying the toddler’s mouth off whatever probably-lead-paint-covered thing she is mouthing, “Great job.”
2. “Practice makes perfect.” It’s true that the more your child practices a skill, more he will improve. However, this saying can increase the pressure he feels to excel. Your child may wonder what’s wrong with him when he practices and practices but still isn’t the best. Instead, encourage your child to work hard and feel proud of his improvement.
I have another really good idea. Act like your kid is so stupid that he cannot possibly catch on when something is just a saying or a cliche. Assume he will think that you truly mean he will become LeBron James if he practices a bit more on the court. Assume when he does not become LeBron James, he will self-destruct. Also, make sure to tell your child that he must open doors before he walks through them and put on his underwear before, not after, his pants.
3. “You’re okay.” When your child scrapes his knee and begins to cry, you may rush to reassure him that he’s not badly hurt. But saying that he’s fine may make him feel worse. Your job is to help him deal with his emotions, not dismiss them. Try giving him a hug and acknowledging what he’s feeling with a comment like, “That was a scary fall.”
This really bothers me. Kids fall down or complain about something at least 347 times per HOUR (you thought I would say “day,” didn’t you? Well, maybe you thought that if you’re child-free). I think it’s a great thing to say they are okay. You are not reaching into their heads and turning off their ability to feel or express themselves by doing this. You are basically saying, “Yes, I know you bumped your toe on the floor, and I saw it, and although you are crying because you cry constantly because you are 3, you are in fact OKAY.” I actually think this is reassuring and kids will internalize it and soothe themselves with saying they are okay when they have minor issues throughout their lives. For example, when Clara was a toddler, she would fall, and get up, saying “I okay.” How is this bad? SHE WAS OKAY.
4. “Hurry up!” Your child dawdles over her breakfast, insists on putting on her own pants, and is on pace to be late for school again. But pushing her to hurry creates additional stress. Soften your tone by saying, “Let’s hurry,” which sends the message that you’re working on the same team. You can also turn getting ready into a game, e.g., “Why don’t we race to see who can get her shirt on first?”
I am consumed with burning anger now. It is just not feasible to suggest to tense, stressed, anxious parents who have to get to work that they should make getting ready into a game (see #4 in that article). Why don’t we just break out the big multicolored parachute and play ring around the rosy at 7 am when you’re trying to get to work by 8? When your child goes to school, or anywhere, people are going to say hurry up. So she should know how to hurry up, and that hurrying up is something that people do when there is a time constraint. Moreover, what the F is the difference between “Let’s hurry” and “Hurry up”? Consider it a win if you don’t say “Hurry up or Mommy is going to get fired and then who’s going to pay for Build-A-Bear parties?”
5. “I’m on a diet.” Watching your weight? Don’t share this with your child. If she sees you stepping on the scale every day and hears you talk about being “fat,” she may develop an unhealthy body image. Try instead to focus on “eating healthy.” Similarly, “I need to exercise” can sound like a complaint, but “It’s beautiful out, I feel like going for a walk” makes her think of physical activity as something fun.
Okay, nothing bad to say about that one except for the general smarminess of the writing. Even a stopped clock, etcetera.
6. “We can’t afford that.” It’s easy to say this when your child asks for the latest gadget. But this sends the message that you’re not in control of your finances, which can be scary for children. Older kids may also call you on this claim if you then buy something expensive for yourself. Instead, say “We’re not going to buy that because we’re saving our money for more important things,” which could open up a conversation about how to budget and manage money.
Hold up, how does saying you can’t afford something show the child you’re NOT in control of your finances? I do not get this at all. Are all people in control of their finances able to afford everything? I think it actually shows the child that you’re aware of your budget constraints and you are in control of your ability to avoid impulse buying. But I certainly agree that if you can afford it but don’t want to buy it, be honest. Say, “I would sooner light myself on fire than buy you another talking Elmo doll, sweetheart.”
7. “Don’t talk to strangers.” This is a tough idea for a young child to grasp. Even if a person is unfamiliar, she may not think of him as a stranger if he acts kindly to her. Plus, kids may take this rule the wrong way and resist the help of police officers or firefighters that are unfamiliar to them. Instead, bring up specific scenarios like “What would you do if a man you don’t know offers you candy and a ride home?”, have her explain what she’d do, then guide her to the proper course of action. Since the vast majority of child-abduction cases involve someone a kid already knows, you could also use this mantra: “If anyone makes you feel sad, scared, or confused, you need to tell me as soon as possible.”
Sure, I get this. BUT don’t keep pressing the sad, scared or confused point either. Kids are suggestible and they will start fearing everyone.
8. “Be careful.” Saying this while your child is balancing on the jungle gym at the playground actually makes it likelier that he’ll fall. Your words distract him and he’ll lose focus. If you’re feeling anxious, move behind him to spot him, being as still and quiet as you can.
I am at least partially on board with this, especially if you have a more sensitive child who will pick up on your words and learn to fear everything. I never told Natalia to be careful, but I do say it to Clara, because she HAS TO FOCUS AND BE CAREFUL because she already chipped her tooth because she has no fear and she only has one other good front tooth left. Also what is up with standing there silently to spot them? They know you’re there because you’re not invisible and they will get even more anxious thinking you’re waiting for them to fall. And also, so what if they fall? In my opinion let them try, if they fall, they fall. Remember Dr. Psych Mom’s motto: a broken bone is easier to repair than an anxiety disorder. And I’m being serious about that.
9. “No dessert unless you finish your dinner.” This expression increases a child’s perceived value of the treat and diminishes his enjoyment of dinner, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve. Instead, say: “First we eat our meal and then we have dessert.” This subtle wording change has a far more positive impact on your child.
Yeah fine unless they eat none of their meal and you know they are going to be bothering you and even (horrors) be UP AT NIGHT because they are hungry, but I agree, in that case you should definitely bribe them with TV or something instead. What, wasn’t that what they meant?
10. “Let me help.” When your child is struggling to build a tower or finish a puzzle, it’s natural to want to come to his aid. Don’t. If you jump in to help too quickly, that can undermine your child’s independence, and he’ll always be looking to others for answers. To raise a thinking child, ask guiding questions to help him solve the problem on his own, like “Do you think the red piece or the blue one should go on top? Why? Let’s give it a try.”
This one I have in the bag. I don’t help because with three kids how the hell would I have the time? Nor do I ask guiding questions. I do, however, say, “You better clean that mess up before dinner.” And sometimes I say, “Let me have the MagnaTiles too. No, I’m making my own thing. Mommy wants to build something herself.” Does that raise a thinking child?
Till we meet again, I remain The Blogapist Who Thinks Parenting Advice Should Only Be Stuff That The Average Stressed Out, Busy Parent Can Actually Envision Doing in This Lifetime.
Related post: Things First Time Moms Wish Veteran Moms Wouldn’t Say