“Because I said so.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “Do as I say, not as I do.” Ever said any of these to your child? Sometimes phrases like these just seem to come out involuntarily. But just because a phrase sounds pretty snappy and seems to teach a lesson doesn’t always mean it’s communicating the right thing to your child. Let’s take a look at some parenting old saws and see if they couldn’t use an update.
“Do as I say, not as I do” – a phrase designed to forgive you of all your bad habits. If only it were that simple. The fact is, kids’ brains are wired to do as you do, so it’s an uphill battle to prevent them from behaving in a certain way if that’s the way you behave. Instead, try to lead by example, and cop to your faults. If your child calls you out on your hypocrisy – and they might – assure them that you’re trying your hardest to break those bad habits.
If your child asks you why they have to do something, statements like “because I said so” and “I’m the parent, that’s why” may not be the answer you’re really looking for. These dismissive answers can squelch a kid’s inquisitive nature, and if your kid becomes afraid to ask questions, their experience of learning will be seriously compromised. Instead, try to consider a real answer to whatever question your child has. Why does your child have to take out the garbage? There are lots of good reasons if you think about it. Here’s one: when a family divides its chores, it gets them out of the way more quickly and has more time to do fun stuff.
“You’re just like so-and-so” is an offhand grumble that can be pretty toxic. For example, if a child has been labeled as being “just like his dad,” he can potentially feel anger and shame every time Dad is criticized. Next time, instead of reaching for a generalizing comparison, just explain exactly what it was about your child’s behavior that disappointed you.
Tweens and teens are riddled with problems arising from their transition to adulthood. Have you ever tried to put one of your tween’s many problems in perspective with the phrase “it’s only growing pains” or “you’ll grow out of it soon”? While these phrases may be absolutely true to you, they imply to your child that whatever they’re going through is imagined or otherwise not “real” pain. Also, by telling them that they’ll “grow out of” something, it’s basically like saying “wait 2-3 years and get back to me” – nobody is that patient, especially not 12-year-olds. So instead, try littler ways of putting their problems in perspective. Once you’ve discussed the source of their angst, ask them if they think it’ll hurt so bad tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And as for whatever’s getting them down right now, provide the best antidote you can. Sometimes a bike ride or a trip to the movies can be just the right distraction.
When we use worn-out parenting phrases, we’re usually engaged in some kind of conflict with a child. Heated emotions can stir up heated words, so it’s important, as always, to take a few deep breaths and listen carefully to yourself and to your child. This will help you decide which phrases are what you really want to say and which are lame shortcuts. Are there any phrases you use that your child really hates? Think about why. And next time you reach for that phrase, consider a more thoughtful alternative.