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Talking to Kids Advice for Parents
Words matter. What a parent says to their child affects how that child acts, speaks, and believes. In Proverbs 22:6, parents are told to “Start children off on the way they should go,” and given the promise that if they do so, “even when they are old they will not turn from it.” How can parents start their children off right and train them in the way they should go? What sorts of words do build a child up and not tear them down?
Good Parenting Tips: What Not to Say to Your Child
• You are so… Parents who praise a child for being smart or athletic or for some other quality may feel they are supporting their children. However, research indicates that being praised for a character trait, rather than effort, caused kids to be discouraged when they failed. Saying, “Your hard work on practicing sure paid off,” or “I can tell you studied hard for that test,” encourages children to be confident that they can tackle even more difficult challenges.
• Leave me alone, I’m busy. Every parent needs time away from the constant needs of their children, but when parents tell their children too often that they can’t help them, the children begin to feel that they are a burden to their parents and that their parents are not someone they can go to for help. Instead, give children a time period for waiting and tell them when you can help them.
• Why can’t you be like… While all of us naturally draw comparisons between children and their friends and siblings, parents need to be careful not to make children feel that they have to measure up to someone else. Each child has different rates of development and needs to know that their parents accept them no matter how long it takes for them to learn to tie their own shoes.
• I can’t believe you did that! Sometimes parents use sarcasm to try to eliminate bad behavior, but jabs like this do more harm than good. Negative statements send a message that parents don’t believe a child is capable, or that they distrust a child’s motives.
• If you do that again, I’ll… Parents who threaten things they won’t do actually challenge their children to disobey. Every time parents don’t follow through on a threat, they undermine their own authority. Be sure that if set a consequence, you are ready to follow through.
• Don’t be so…lazy, shy, klutzy, stupid. Parents who label their children like this often create or perpetuate the behavior they are trying to eliminate. Be careful of using labels even when you are just trying to excuse your child’s behavior. For example, don’t say, “She’s just shy” when a child doesn’t want to talk to a relative she’s never met. Instead, parents can say, “She doesn’t feel like talking right now,” which is the truth.
• Don’t cry! Don’t scream! Everyone has a right to feel emotions. A parent’s job is not to suppress emotions but to teach children how to express them appropriately. Help your child by naming their feelings and giving them suggestions of what they can do. Say, “I know you are mad John can’t play today. When you are mad you can run around outside or hit a pillow until you feel better.”
• You drive me crazy! It may be true that the antics of small children drive a parent to their wit’s end, but children need to know that parents are in control. Instead of berating children, parents can tell the children what they need them to do. “Please go outside to play while I finish dinner,” will get a parent the time and space they need more effectively than any cry of exasperation.
In Ephesians 4:15 we are told that, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” As parents speak truth to their children, they can make sure children hear what they say not only by the words they speak, but also by their tone of voice and body language. When you talk to your child about something important, be sure to look them in the eye. When you need to correct them, use a firm but gentle tone.
Parents need to follow through with discipline but can let their children know they are loved in spite of failures and misbehavior by a hug. Being a parent is a difficult job, and no one says the right words every time, but by remembering these good parenting tips: what not to say to your child, you can be sure to help your child to know you respect them and believe they will mature into a man or woman of God.
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