Most parents do their best to raise confident, moral, capable children, but sometimes when kids disappoint them, parents angrily blurt out things they should never say. Although the occasional outburst is unlikely to permanently scar a well-adjusted child, a regular barrage of hateful, damaging statements can have a negative impact on a youngster.
Constructive criticism is part of the teaching process but to be effective, it must be delivered with tact and sensitivity. For example, if your child reads you a poem he proudly wrote and you think it’s awful, first try to find something sincerely encouraging to say and then add a suggestion for improvement. Avoid brutally blunt comments such as “That was really terrible. You”ll have to start over!” Avoid demanding perfection. Don’t focus on the mistakes made on a test when your child brings home a good mark that’s less than 100 percent.
Insults and Put-Downs
No matter how frustrated or disappointed you might be with your child, never make an insulting comment that defines her in a negative way. Avoid statements that draw attention to physical or intellectual shortcomings, even in jest. Don’t tell your daughter that she has “Uncle Harry’s humongous ears” or that you knew she wouldn’t remember to pick up her little brother from his play date because she’s “always unreliable and selfish.”
Name Calling and Labelling
Name-calling is not an adult behavior. Never call your child stupid or lazy. Instead, explain what you don’t like about his behavior and why. For example, you might say, “It’s not acceptable to be late for school every morning. You must make more of an effort to get up on time tomorrow.” Don’t discourage your child from attempting something he wants because you’re afraid he won’t succeed. Avoid statements such as “You aren’t athletic, so don’t waste your time trying out for the swim team.”
Frustrated parents having a hard time in their own lives might use their child as a scapegoat for their situation. It’s never acceptable to blame a child for a divorce, even if arguments over the kids contributed to the breakup. It’s also not acceptable to make your child feel guilty for ailments you have. Avoid statements such as “You’re giving me a headache.”
You can’t foster self-esteem in children by showing disgust with them. Statements that perpetuate your disappointment in them as people are the most damaging. Never say such things as “once a liar always a liar” or “shame on you.”
Kids hate to be compared to others and told they fall short, just as much as adults do. Comparison to a more talented, more intelligent or better behaved person is unfair and cruel. Don’t ask questions such as “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Even asking “What was the highest mark in the class?” reveals your disappointment in your child’s success and can diminish any pride she feels in her achievement.
It’s almost always best to be honest with your kids, even when the truth hurts. For example, trying to protect him from the harsh reality of a parent’s terminal illness makes it even harder for the child to accept later. False compliments and insincere praise might result in an inflated ego in a child who can’t honestly assess his strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to build self-esteem, not arrogance. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as, “You’ll win the championship next year, I promise you.”
Withdrawing affection or threats to do so are never appropriate. Avoid saying, “I won’t love you any more if you do that again.” Don’t make threats you don’t mean, such as, “I’m never going to speak to you again.” Don’t make empty threats you’re not prepared to follow through on. Telling your child that you’re cancelling the outing to the beach and then taking her anyway is a bad idea.
If you don’t want to hear your child using curse words, don’t use bad language. Kids pick up the expressions they hear at home. If you pepper your dialogue with curse words, don’t be surprised when your child mimics your expressions.
Just about every parent has been tempted at some time to answer a child whining “Why must I do this?” with “Do it because I say so!” Edicts are seldom effective because they give no explanation and leave no room for discussion. They effectively shut the child down and show that you are not interested in listening to him. Kids hate being spoken to in this way, and although you might get compliance in the short term, it’s likely to result in rebellion later.
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