Paula Spencer recently published an article with this title and after reading it, I could not help thinking of my own children and the mistakes I make. After some reflection, I thought I would share the key points with you. If nothing else, it is good for us to stop and consider.
"Leave me alone!"
When you routinely tell your kids, "Don't bother me" or "I'm busy” they may think you're always brushing them off and be less likely to tell you things as they get older. Of course children should see their parents take time for themselves or for doing tasks that need some concentration. This is when you can set some parameters in advance. "I have to finish this one thing, so I need you to play/read/occupy yourself quietly for a few minutes. When I'm finished, we’ll talk."
"Why are you so mean to Katie?" "She's so shy." Young children believe what they hear about themselves. The worst comments cut deep like “you are so clumsy” or “so stupid”. Try to address the specific behaviour and leave the adjectives about your child's personality out of it. Even labels that seem neutral or positive can pigeonhole a child and place unnecessary pressures on them.
When children get upset enough to cry, acknowledge their emotion up front. "It must make you really sad when…"; "Yes, the traffic can be scary but I promise I won't let go of your hand”. By naming the real feelings that your child has, you'll give them the words they need to explain their feelings.
"Why can't you be more like your sister?"
Comparisons almost always backfire. Children develop at their own pace and have their own temperament and personality. Comparing your child to someone else implies that you wish yours were different. Being pressured to do something they are not ready for can undermine self-confidence, leading to resentment and often, a test of wills.
"You know better that!"
Learning is a process of trial and error. Give your child the benefit of the doubt, and be specific. Say "I like it better if you do it this way, thank you”. Jabs like "I can't believe you did that!" and "It's about time!" can add up, and the underlying message children hear is: "You're a pain in the neck, and you never do anything right."
"Stop or I'll ground you for a month!”
Threats, usually the result of parental frustration, are rarely effective. Sooner or later you have to make good on the threat. It's more effective to develop a repertoire of constructive tactics, such as redirection, removing the child from the situation or time-outs, than it is to rely on those with proven negative consequences, including verbal threats or long lists of penalties.
Studies have shown that the odds of a two-year-old repeating a misdeed later in the same day are 80%, no matter what sort of discipline you use. Even with older children, no discipline strategy yields sure-fire results every time.
"Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips." Psalm 141:3