Wow, I can’t believe it has been almost five years since I wrote 10 things not to say to your kids. It really is amazing the reaction to that article. Some completely agreed, some were convicted to change behaviors, some thought it was ridiculous! But, I always aim to provide food for thought to parents and base what I believe in play therapy principles, so I feel the need to expand onto the former list with five new additions that have come into my awareness.
1. Make a good choice.
It is the expression being spread around parenting circles ever since the education system began talking about letting children choose their behaviors. However, this phrase does not align with the principle behind play therapy based choice giving, which you can learn more about here. ‘Make a good choice’ is laden with control and judgment – a “good” choice is the one you want him to make and any alternative is wrong. Instead, offer both options. “Brady, if you choose to stop yelling, you choose to have dessert after dinner. If you choose to keep yelling, you choose not to have dessert. Which do you choose?” This clearly indicates that the child assumes responsibility for the consequence of the choice that was made, regardless of which he chooses.
2. Why can’t you be more like…?
In moments of frustration about our kids’ behaviors, we sometimes express to them that we want them to be more calm, quiet, or another desired behavior typically demonstrated by someone else in their life. “Your brother never throws things” or “Why can’t you be calm like Lucy?” can easily become staples in our conversations with our kids. However, comparing always leads to a clear favorite. The implication is that your child’s behavior dictates how much you appreciate and value him. Instead of this approach, set a limit on unwanted behaviors when necessary, but never in an attempt to make him more like someone else.
3. (S)He’s my problem/difficult/crazy child.
I have already spent time discussing the problem with labeling children, but it warrants further discussion because of the negative impact that it can cause. When a child hears even a hint of disappointment, judgment, or accusation in an innocent comment, it stays with them forever. There are so many stories of the self-fulfilling prophecy: The mailman calling the little girl Miss America everyday and she becomes one. The boy labeled as the class clown becoming a comedian. Words are important and carry a lot of weight. A child should never hear you say anything about them to another person other than about their strengths and what you appreciate about them.
4. You’re grounded!
One of the major principles in play therapy is the importance of self-control and self-responsibility for children. When a child gets out of control and parents jump in and implement punishment, it teaches the child, “I don’t need to control my behavior. When I get out of control, mom or dad will step in and take over.” This teaches nothing about learning how to regulate behavior and assume responsibility for her own actions. Setting limits when necessary, and coupling limits with compliance choices, allows the child to process, decide, and accept the consequence of a choice.
You can say, “I know you are having fun, but the ball is not for throwing in the house. You can choose to play a board game or do a puzzle instead.” – LIMIT. If the child continues to throw the ball, “If you choose to play with the ball outside, you choose to have the ball. If you choose to keep playing with it in the house, you choose for me to put it away until tomorrow.” – COMPLIANCE CHOICE
Your children crave your attention, presence, and interest in their lives. When texting, video games, TV, phone calls, and obligations take our attention away from our kids, we need to regroup. Our kids need us to ask them about their day, their friends, their interests. They need us to get excited with them, understand their hurts, and have conversations about things that are confusing. Speaking purposefully and respectfully, kindly and calmly, is crucial to a healthy and communicative relationship with our kids in the future.
As I mentioned in the first article, this takes practice and a commitment to shift our parenting habits to more effective and positive ones. I have had dozen of parents who complete my online parenting training astounded at how well changing the way they communicate and word things to their children works to better their relationship. It only takes a desire and practice to begin to shape a more effective way of communicating and a better relationship with your children!