Communicating with Kids: Words to Avoid and What to Say Instead
As parents and caregivers, our words hold immense power when it comes to shaping our kiddo's world. It is important to foster open, constructive, and empathetic communication with our kids. Let's explore how our choice of words can nurture emotional intelligence and build strong, healthy relationships.
1. "Stop crying":
Why you shouldn't say it: Demanding that a child stop displaying a big emotion can be invalidating. Crying is a helpful, though sometimes difficult to sit with, tool for emotional expression. When you tell a child to stop crying, you're essentially telling them that their feelings are not acceptable. This can lead to emotional suppression, where children learn to bottle up their feelings instead of processing them in a healthy way. It can also create a sense of isolation and frustration, as the child may feel misunderstood.
What to say instead: "It looks like you might be feeling sad right now. Am I getting that right? It's okay to cry and I am here for help when you need me. Let me know when you're ready to talk about what is wrong." By acknowledging the child's emotions and expressing your readiness to support them, you validate their feelings. This helps them develop emotional intelligence and feel more secure in expressing their emotions.
2. "You'll be fine":
Why you shouldn't say it: While this is typically said with the best of intentions, it can feel invalidating -- especially to the child. or adolescent mind! 'You'll be fine' can minimize a child's concern or feelings in the moment and imply that they should quickly resolve it. This can lead to children suppressing their emotions rather than processing them, which isn't healthy for their emotional development.
What to say instead: Encouraging the child to share more about what's bothering them communicates that you care about their feelings and are willing to listen and provide support. "Things sound really hard right now. Can I hear more about it?" or "I know it sucks right now and I'm here to support you."
3. "You always" or "you never":
Why you shouldn't say it: Using absolute language like "always" or "never" when addressing a child's behavior can be overly critical and discouraging. It can lead to a fixed mindset, where children believe they cannot change or improve in the areas mentioned. It also doesn't provide specific feedback about what needs improvement. Though it might feel like they never remember to turn off the light, it isn't quite helpful to voice that.
What to say instead: Being specific about the behavior or situation you want to address allows the child to understand the issue better and work on improving it. For example, "I noticed that you left your toys out again today. That might make tomorrow tougher. Be sure to clean them up before bedtime."
4. "You're making me so _____":
Why you shouldn't say it: While it is important for children to understand that you are, in fact, a person with emotions, they are not responsible for your feelings. Blaming a child for your emotions can place an undue emotional burden on them. They may feel responsible for your feelings, causing guilt and anxiety. This can hinder their ability to express themselves honestly and lead to an unhealthy dynamic in the parent-child relationship.
What to say instead: By expressing your emotions without attributing them to the child, you model healthy emotional expression and teach them that it's okay to feel and communicate their own emotions. For example, "I feel frustrated when the toys are left out because it's challenging to walk around safely."
5. "You're too young to understand":
Why you shouldn't say it: Dismissing your kiddo's curiosity can discourage their natural inclination to learn and explore the world around them. It sends the message that their curiosity is not valued and can lead to a lack of confidence in their ability to learn and understand.
What to say instead: Encouraging their curiosity and offering age-appropriate explanations not only supports their development but also strengthens the parent-child bond by fostering open communication and a sense of trust. For example, "That's a great question! Let's break it down so it's easier to understand" or "That's a tricky one! I'll explain it to you in a way that makes sense for your age."
Effective communication with kids is an ongoing process that requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to adapt our language to nurture their emotional growth. By avoiding these phrases and replacing them with more compassionate and constructive alternatives, we empower our children to develop emotional intelligence, feel valued, and build strong, trusting relationships with us as parents and caregivers. Remember, our words have the power to shape the future of our children, one conversation at a time.