Are You Your Child's Worst Critic? Part 2
Updated: Aug 2, 2018
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
For Monday's post (which you can read here), we touched on how certain things a parent says or how parents communicate, no matter how well-intended, can have negative effects on a child. The words that come out of a parent’s mouth can be misinterpreted and misconstrued by a child, even if they come from a place of love and good intentions.
Here are some common things you may have said, or heard, that can actually psychologically harm or damage a child:
“I’ll leave you here.”
Children are dependent on their parents for a lot of things: food, shelter, affection, comfort... the list can go on. When your child doesn’t want to leave the playground or the toy shop, uttering these words will do more harm than good. These words trigger their fear of abandonment due to children’s deep-rooted attachment to parents; in turn, a child will feel neglected and have a decreased sense of security, even if they aren’t actually left.
Instead of threatening to leave them, try this instead:
Give your child a choice. Either they can come back tomorrow, or have them look forward to something else, like going to eat their favourite food for dinner or going to watch their favourite movie when they come home.
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
When a child does something wrong, it can be easy to say this to let them know that what they did shouldn’t have been done and shouldn’t be repeated. But it doesn’t really work that way.
People often use guilt and shame interchangeably, but they are two different things. Guilt is actually a healthy emotion that focuses on the action (“I did something bad”), whereas shame focuses on the person (“I am bad.”). When a person is shamed, rather than detaching their identity from what they did, it creates a negative self-image and shatters their self-esteem.
Instead of shaming them, try this instead:
Ask them how they feel (instead of telling them how they should feel), and help them figure out what they can do differently the next time. Teach your child to own up to their mistakes, learn from them and make changes accordingly. Also, convey the fact that their mistakes don’t define them as a person, or make them any less lovable or worthy.
In line with the previous point about not dictating your child's feelings, always try to be empathetic. Invalidating a child’s emotions will only teach them to suppress and bury what they feel, becoming less likely to open up in the future. Their coping skills will also gradually become worse, and they won’t learn to deal or manage their emotions in a healthy manner.
Instead of invalidating their feelings, try this instead:
Try to understand where they’re coming from. Ask them why they’re crying, try to understand where they’re coming from, and then explain where you’re coming from in a calm, loving tone. They need to know that their feelings are valid, that they’re being listened to and understood. Empathy works both ways, and when you make a point to try to empathise with your child, they’ll learn to empathise with others, too.
“My child is ..........,” or “You are so .........”
Sometimes, parents say things like, “My daughter/son is the shy one in the family,” or “You are so stubborn.” When this is being said often enough, a child will internalise what their parents say, and this will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Before you know it, they’ll believe what you say about them and who they are. So instead of your child trying to change your perception of them, they’ll think that it’s impossible and futile to change at all. In sociology, the labelling theory is defined as one’s identity, and acceptance of that identity, being shaped by others’ perception of them.
Instead of labelling them, try this instead:
Celebrate their individual strengths and efforts. Acknowledge the good things they do and the unique things that make them special—without pigeonholing your child into a certain category, or resorting to sweeping statements that define them as a person. Remember that children are still figuring themselves out and growing, so having a few traits or qualities in their developmental years define them as people will only put them in a box.
In the previous post, we also mentioned that comparing your child to others only creates resentment and bitterness, both within the child and in your relationship. Instead of drawing comparisons, see children for the unique individuals that they are and encourage them to become their better selves instead of like somebody else.
Some of these are so common and impulsive, that we don't realise the adverse effects they have on a child. So, before you say any one of these, see it from the perspective of the child. How would you feel if someone said it to you? Always keep in mind that at the end of the day, children are humans with very valid feelings, just like you and I.