“Sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
The English phrase above from the mid 19th century, was coined as a way of persuading children, taunted by verbal bullying, not to retaliate with violence. Words do not cause physical harm but they can cause deep-rooted psychological distress and emotional pain, damaging our children’s self-esteem, motivation and confidence.
1. Don’t cry – it’s no big deal!
A grazed knee or losing a toy is part and parcel of growing up, so while you know your child will be fine, remember, to them it is a big deal. Acknowledge rather than dismiss their feelings. Give them the space to express their emotions rather than suppressing them.
Watch this video : Boy’s Don’t Cry’
2. If you do that one more time…I’ll…
Language that threatens causes fear-based learning, a loss of respect if you do not follow through and is never positive behaviour to model to your child. Help your child to understand the cause and effect of their actions rather than punishing them.
3. Why did you do that?
Possibly one of the most pointless questions we ask. Young children often act out of instinct and in the moment. They may not understand themselves why they feel as they do or have the vocabulary to put it into words.
4. Don’t argue with me!
Battling to gain control should not become the aim of a difference of opinion and certainly not if it puts a lid on personality. No matter how young your child is, their thoughts, feelings and opinions have value. When we shut our children up, the message we send out about self-expression is very negative. Allowing your child freedom of expression through respectful debate encourages positive development in many areas, including language skills, creative thinking, problem-solving, self-esteem and confidence.
5. Why can’t you be more like your brother / sister?
Each sibling is an individual with his or her own unique personality and special qualities. Celebrate their differences rather than comparing them and causing them to feel inferior!
6. Don’t be naughty!
There is no such thing as a naughty child! Children act out because they do not understand adult expectations of them. Rather than immediately labeling behaviour as ‘naughty’, try to understand your child’s learning style or why they are behaving in a way that you consider negative.
7. Wait ’till your dad gets home!
Not only is this a threat that leaves a child fearfully anticipating the arrival of one parent who unwittingly becomes the ‘bad guy’ but it also diminishes your effectiveness to discipline and be taken seriously. If necessary to discipline your child, do so immediately yourself rather than postponing it to a time when they have most likely moved on and forgotten the incident.
8. You’re making me really angry now!
Losing our temper is a choice we make. We must take responsibility for the way we react to our children’s behaviour, not blame them. It’s ok to feel disappointed or upset but the onus is on us to guide and role-model expectations.
9. Because I said so!
Always try to give your child some context for why you are asking them to do something. They have the right to an explanation and this will also help their own understanding of a situation. You may be pushed for time but show your child you do listen to what they have to say and that their feelings matter.
10. If you are a good girl, you can have an ice cream or If you don’t stop doing that, you won’t get an ice-cream!
Avoid any reward and punishment system that involves food – turning certain food into a treat or something that a child believes they will never deserve. Studies have shown that food used in this way can lead to an unhealthy attitude towards food and in some cases eating disorders.
Busy, exhausted and at times exasperated, we all blurt things out sometimes without realising the effect words have on our children. But we should be aware of the language we use, particularly if it humiliates, devalues, threatens or blames.
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By Fiona Walker, Principal Of Schools / CEO, Julia Gabriel Education
Fiona Walker joined Julia Gabriel Centre in 1991 as a teacher and is now the Principal of Schools / CEO of Julia Gabriel Education. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children. She is committed to the ongoing development of teachers and curriculum in Julia Gabriel Education.
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine.
Watch this powerful video on the impact of your words: ‘Words can be weapons’
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