You Should Stop Saying
to your child
We want to protect our children. We want to caution them, we don't want to see them in pain, we don't want to see them hurt. We mean no harm in telling our children to BE CAREFUL whilst climbing the tree, DON'T touch the stove, or NO playing with tools.
It's become such a habit, that we don't realize how often we say these 3 things to our children, until we become conscious of it. We mean well and we have good intentions, but what we need to understand is what the long term effects and implications of our chosen words mean for our kids.
Let's dive into each word / phrase a little deeper and look at why we need to stop saying these 3 things to our children.
Generally, we don't provide an explanation on what our kids need to be careful of and why. Children are constantly learning, and are wondering "What happens if...?" They want to know what will happen if they don’t proceed with caution. Why is this problematic? As parents, we blame their behaviour. "If only they had listened to us to begin with, that would never have happened!" Right?
In the long term, after hearing the phrase "Be Careful" multiple times throughout their lives, kids start to interpret anything as a threat. Everything is dangerous and unsafe. They start refraining from participating in certain activities, loose confidence in their abilities and stop taking risks entirely, when in fact they there are so many benefits to risky play. Fast forward into their adult lives - they cannot take calculated business risks in aid of "Being Careful".
The thing is, children learn best through life experience of their own. If they are prevented from doing so, their adult lives would be filled with unnecessary mistakes that could have been avoided had they been given the opportunity as children. The way in which a child's brain is wired during childhood makes an enormous difference for when they need to spread their wings on their own and embrace adulthood. Kids need to make mistakes because they need to learn from them, just in the same way that they need to learn to take calculated risks. Avoiding risk could be detrimental to their development, and in that way loose out on opportunities that we need to get ahead in life.
"Success never came to those who were too afraid to go after it"
- Anna Chui
Children need to be guided more in being ambitious to strive for greatness, and the way in which that can be done is to be conscious of the words we choose when we speak to them and urge our kids to proceed with caution, discovering their own boundaries.
Ever wonder why, when you say "Don't go up the stairs", "Don't put your feet on the table", "Don't forget your homework", "Don't make a mess", they end up doing exactly that! As Mia Von Scha from Transformational Parenting explains, language is an abstraction from reality. This means that multiple people will have multiple interpretations and perceptions of certain words that they hear. Language doesn't mean anything (it is purely sound that you have heard), until your brain translates that into meaning and pictures.
Now when we use the word "don't" in a sentence, what mental picture is a child receiving? If we tell them "Don't eat with your hands". The mental picture the child is receiving is to eat with their hands. In order to understand what the words "Don't eat with your hands" mean, children need to visualize what eating with their hands looks like and make a mental picture of themselves doing it, which makes them more likely to do it again!
Consciously our children understand what we are asking them, but unconsciously they are making mental pictures of the opposite of what we are requesting them to do. If we are asking them not to eat with their hands, consciously they understand that we have asked them to stop eating with their hands, but unconsciously they have seen the mental picture of themselves eating with their hands, therefore will continue to do so after they've stopped thinking about your request. We need to change the mental picture we are giving our kids when we say ask them to be cautious or when we ask them specific requests. Instead we should be asking them to "Eat with your fork please". In this way, their mental picture will be clear and they won't continue to eat with their hands once they slip back into their unconscious frame of mind again.
Using the word 'no' is considered negative language and "unintentionally inserting negative phrases into our parenting could have the unintended consequence of rewiring how our kids speak and how they perceive their world." Similarly to using the word "don't" in sentences, children get a mental picture of the opposite of your initial request. For example, you say to your child: No running across the road!" Your child's mental picture received is to run across the road.
We need to rewire our children's brains to think more positively, therefore we need to be conscious of our choice of words, and instead of focusing on what they can't or shouldn't be doing, focus on what they CAN do. No running? Then ask them to walk. Save 'no' for absolute emergencies.
This helps our children listen to us better and rewires our kids’ minds to hear us, to respond, and to feel heard.
BREAKING THE HABIT
STEP 1: STOP
Notice what you are about to say and stop yourself.
STEP 2: BREATHE
Take a deep breath, and ask yourself: Is this a life / death situation? Is there an opportunity to learn that my child may gain from this?