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Before anyone yells at me: no, I am not a child psychologist. I don’t have degrees in anything pertaining to parenting or social development. These are just my thoughts as someone who worked in youth ministry for several years and as a parent of fairly well-adjusted (so far) kids who are kind, contributing members of society.
Things you SHOULD say to your kids:
That was stupid.
So, that sounds harsh and I completely understand that again and again the “experts” tell us that telling our kids anything negative and certainly using the word “stupid” is wrong. That it damages your kids for life.
I call foul.
My kids DO STUPID THINGS.
I am not saying that they, themselves, are stupid. They are not. In my opinion, they are the most brilliant children the world has ever seen. But, even the most brilliant do STUPID things sometimes. And if I don’t want them to repeat the stupidity, I’m certainly not going to pretend it was a smart or okay thing to do. That would be stupid. And not good parenting. I love my kids. I want them to be successful, happy, participating adults. If I only affirm them and do not call them out when they participate in something stupid then I am the stupid one. I am less of a parent than I should be. And that isn’t something I ever want to be said of me.
That it WAS their fault.
Okay, for some things no one needs to be put at “fault”. Dropping a glass or spilling your perfume are not times to make sure your child knows it was his or her “fault”. Those are times to simply clean it up and move on. But too often we don’t encourage our children to take responsibility for the times they mess up.
Most of the time my children need to take responsibility for things that ARE their fault…whatever they are. Maybe the didn’t finish their homework, or stayed up too late and are tired, or ate bad food and don’t feel well. They need to understand why they are at fault, and they need to deal with the consequences. They need to deal with the lower grade. They need to deal with finishing up their chores when they just want to take a nap. They need to deal with the fact that we made plans and they still need to join us, even though their stomach isn’t that happy. Because they are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Allowing them to understand that they are “at fault” doesn’t in any way speak to who they are as people. It isn’t about their heart or their personality, it simply happened.
But teaching our children to pass off blame or that by “not meaning to” excuses their responsibility is a complete disservice. When is the last time you made a mistake at work that you were able to say “you didn’t mean to” and remove the consequence? Maybe you removed the consequence for yourself but SOMEONE paid it, somewhere. Missing a deadline affects someone, and if you were responsible for the missed deadline then YOU should be the one to deal with the consequences.
That is why I believe my children should take ownership for the mistakes and accidents they cause. I do not want them to be horrified or upset by them. I want mistakes and “blame” to be something they are comfortable enough with that they can see the problem, their role in it, and find a way to fix it. No crazy tears. No self-depreciation. No loss of self-worth. Just a simple understanding that when you screw something up, you should fix it.
The person who said something bad about you might be RIGHT.
As parents, we never want to think that maybe it was, in fact, our own children who were at fault or flawed in some way. But maybe my kid does have something to work on. And they need to know! I absolutely tell them.
Because learning to take criticism is so, so vital.
There isn’t a person on the planet that hasn’t been hit with something that hurts their soul, and often it feels like an attack on their very person. I don’t want my children to be surprised when that happens to them. I don’t want them to be hit with their own flaws and be so embarrassed they are immobilized. I want them to own their flaws, work at fixing what they can, loving themselves in spite of them, and moving on with being a fantastic part of the world around them.
I want to be the person that instills confidence in my children that REGARDLESS of the mistakes they will make, or the criticisms they will receive…they are of value.
And yes, the criticism and faults may have validity. But, my children will not be defined by them. All people have flaws and make mistakes. What matters is the grace we carry with our flaws, the understanding we offer when we see others’ flaws, and the way we seek to use this knowledge to become better, kinder people. I want my children to become people that can stand up in the face of adversity, drama, criticism, and heartache. I want them to know that even though they did make a mistake or show a character flaw that it isn’t who they are as a whole. It is simply a moment in time that they need to learn from and then they need to move forward.
Because I said so.
So this is something that should not be said ALWAYS; it should actually be said very rarely. But it still needs to be said.
I hear all the time that you should make your kids feel their opinion is valuable, and part of that is explaining your reasoning for decisions to them. Agreed. But sometimes, just sometimes, kids need to know that they are kids and that their opinion in a matter simply isn’t relevant. Not to be mean or devalue them. If you are doing your job well as a parent, they know they are valuable.
But children need to recognize that they won’t always understand decisions, and they won’t always be able to be part of making them. And that is okay. That doesn’t remove their value.
When my kids head off to work, unless they are the absolute boss, they are without question going to have to follow directions from people for no good reason. Sometimes they will be asked to do something that really just doesn’t make sense. If they stop to question and bring their opinion to every decision they will be fired. They will be. My husband and I have our own business (aside from NellieBellie, yes!) and often we ask things of our employees without seeking input or explaining our decisions. And, while I appreciate the value of my employees, I’ll fire anyone that wastes my time by making me talk out every decision. See where I’m going with this? My kids need to learn to do something “just because”.
Someone that knows more or is in charge requires it (and no, those aren’t always the same thing). End of story.
I told you so.
This is another thing that shouldn’t be said too often. For sure. In fact, you need to be especially careful with a teenager! But it still should be said sometimes. My kids just seem to forget that I know anything. I “told you not to stay up too late last night or you would be tired” or “I told you not to eat all that sugar or you would be sick” in the right places reminds them that I am not just giving instructions for fun. I have a valid reason. Of course, you should mix it up with other consequences and wording, but the occasional “I told you So” needs to happen.
I don’t want you to eat that.
I totally get that there is a difference between “don’t eat that cookie” for an overweight child and “don’t eat that cookie” for a non-overweight child. And they ARE different. I am in no way saying that an overweight child should be shamed for eating something bad for them. But my children are a healthy weight, so that changes the conversation, and context, this phrase creates.
My job is to teach my children how to make good choices in diet. Most of that is encouraging good choices. I make sure to keep healthy foods around and make it easy for them to choose wisely. But, if I don’t speak to the negative sometimes they will not realize that diet choices can be both positive or negative.
My saying “don’t eat that cookie” is just telling my child to make a better choice. I should hopefully follow it up with realistic alternatives for the cookie. I could also ask if they are hungry, bored, tired, or WHY they want to eat that cookie in order to help them identify the relationship their emotions and body have with food. This isn’t damaging but helping. True, it can go the other way quickly. But, not EVER speaking in a negative way about food isn’t helpful either.
Important note: My conversations with my children are about the health aspects of eating, or not eating, certain foods. We do not talk about how food affects your appearance. We talk about how food affects the way your body performs; food can make you antsy, lethargic, hyper, sick, and cause a whole host of other effects. When I talk with my kids about their diet, it is with a focus on treating their bodies with care. It isn’t about fitting a certain image of attractiveness.
That they aren’t good at something
Levi plays the drums, so we attend many band concerts for 6th graders. And they really aren’t that great. But while we are there, I hear all sorts of parents telling their children how good they sounded, and how great they are at their instruments. They weren’t! Many of those children played horribly, and the band certainly didn’t sound good. Sixth graders rarely sound good.
But that isn’t the point.
To be fair, my little guy Levi IS good at playing drums for his age. But even if he weren’t, I would encourage him to play. I don’t care if he is good or not. It isn’t about being good at everything we do. In my home, it’s about the willingness to TRY. To test new things and new experiences. To learn what you LIKE.
Maybe he isn’t good at drums but he loves playing in the band. That might mean he needs to try a different instrument. It might simply mean he likes the camaraderie that comes from the band. For whatever reason it is, it works. I love it and I encourage it. I would gladly let my child be the worst in the band and STILL tell them they needed to continue. Because they committed. They are part of a team. And SOMEONE is always the worst in a group. Always. Do I think they are less of the group? No Way. I have such respect for those that don’t do well and they know it but realize that they love it and want to contribute. I want my kids to be those kids. Not the best. Not perfect. The ones that have great hearts and great reasons and great habits. The ones that others look at and are inspired by their work ethic and their love of others. Sometimes I want them to not be the best. Even the worst. So that they can learn how to have character. Then when they find the thing that they ARE the best at they are humble and kind. They are still out to find the next person’s “thing”. That they have empathy and respect NOT pity for the person that is struggling.
But if they are never told that they aren’t good at something, they don’t learn any of those valuable lessons. If they always think they are incredible at everything they try, they will never understand the importance of supporting others or sticking with something that might be hard for them. That’s why they sometimes need to be told they aren’t good at it and that is a-okay!