Monday, August 19, 2013

5 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids During Emotional Moments (and What to Say Instead)

Researches in child psychology show that some of the most commonly used and seemingly positive phrases we use with kids are actually quite destructive. Despite our good intentions, these statements teach children to stop trusting their internal guidance system, to numb and deny their own emotion, become deceptive.

Here’s a list of the top 5 things to erase from your parenting vocabulary now. Instead, alternatives are provided so that you can replace these habitual statements with phrases that will actually enhance emotional connection and build resiliency.

1. "Don’t cry."
One of the most common statement parents told their kids, especially boys is ‘Don’t cry’. But when we say things like, “Don’t cry,” we’re invalidating their feelings and telling them that their tears are unacceptable. This causes kids to learn to suppress their emotions, which can ultimately lead to more explosive emotional outbursts later. It also confused them as emotion is real and there’s no good or bad emotion. Denying one owns emotion is like denying their sense of hunger or self.

Allow space for your child as he cries. Say things like, “It’s OK to cry. Everyone needs to cry sometimes. I’ll be right here to listen to you.” You might even try verbalizing the feelings your child might be having, “You’re really disappointed that we can’t go to the park right now, huh?” This can help your child understand his feelings and learn to verbalize them sooner than he might otherwise. And by encouraging his emotional expression, you’re helping him learn to regulate his emotions, which is a crucial skill that will serve him throughout life.

2. "It’s nothing, no big deal, everything is OK!"
It’s so easy for adults to belittle and trivialize kid’s feelings. Children often value things that seem small and insignificant to our adult point of view. So, try to see things from your child’s point of view. It may be OK for adult but may not be OK for kids. Acknowledge their feelings, even as you’re setting a boundary or saying no to their request.

“I know you really wanted to do that, but it’s not going to work out for today,” or “I’m sorry you’re disappointed and the answer is no,” are far more respectful than trying to convince your child that their desires don’t really matter.

3. "Why did you do that?"
If your child has done something you don’t like, you certainly do need to have a conversation about it. However, the heat of the moment is not a time when your child can learn from her mistakes. And when you ask a child, “Why?” you’re forcing her to think about and analyze her behavior, which is an advanced skill, even for adults. When confronted with this question, many kids will shut down and get defensive.

Instead, keep the communication line open by guessing what your child might have been feeling and what her underlying needs might be. “Were you feeling frustrated because your friends weren’t listening to your idea?” By attempting to understand what your child was feeling and needing, you might even discover that your own upset about the incident diminishes. “Oh! He bit his friend because he was needing space and feeling scared, and he didn’t know how else to communicate that. He’s not a ‘terror,’ he’s just a kid!”

4. “Stop it right now, or else!”
Threatening a child is never a good idea. First of all, you’re teaching them a skill you don’t really want them to have: the ability to use brute force or superior cunning to get what they want, even when the other person isn’t willing to cooperate. Secondly, you’re putting yourself in an awkward position in which you either have to follow through on your threats—exacting a punishment you threatened in the heat of your anger—or you can back down, teaching your child that your threats are meaningless. Either way, you’re not getting the result you want and you’re damaging your connection with your child.

While it can be difficult to resist the urge to threaten, try sharing vulnerably and redirecting to something more appropriate instead.“It’s NOT OK to hit your brother. I’m worried that he will get hurt, or he’ll hurt you back. If you are really angry, just tell him off or walk away.”

By offering an alternative that is safer yet still allows the child to express her feelings you’re validating her emotions even as you set a clear boundary for her behavior. This will ultimately lead to better self-control and emotional wellbeing for your child.

5. “If you _____ then I’ll give you _____”
Bribing kids is equally destructive as it discourages them from finding inner satisfaction and honour by doing its job properly. This kind of exchange can become a slippery slope and if used frequently, you’re bound to have it come back, expecting more and more. “No! I won’t clean my room unless you buy me Ipad!”

Instead try, “Thank you so much for helping me clean up!” When we offer our genuine gratitude, children are intrinsically motivated to continue to help. And if your child hasn’t been very helpful lately, remind him of a time when he was. “Remember a few months ago when you helped me take out the trash? That was such a big help. Thanks!” Then allow your child to come to the conclusion that helping out is fun and intrinsically rewarding.

It’s crucial for kid’s emotional development and regulation by allowing them to fully express their emotions, whether it is happy, excited, frustrated, sad, angry, upset, or disgusting. Only by learning to recognise and acknowledge their own feelings and teaching them to verbalize it, that they could develop their emotional intelligence.

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