We all say the wrong thing sometimes, leaving our kids feeling hurt, angry, or confused. Read on for some of the most common verbal missteps moms and dads make, and kinder, gentler alternatives:'Leave me alone!
A parent who doesn't crave an occasional break is a saint, a martyr, or someone who's so overdue for some time alone she's forgotten the benefits of recharging.
Trouble is, when you routinely tell your kids, "Don't bother me" or "I'm busy," they internalize that message.
"They begin to think there's no point in talking to you because you're always brushing them off." If you set up that pattern when your children are small, then they may be less likely to tell you things as they get older.'You're so...'
Labels are shortcuts that shortchange kids: "Why are you so mean to Katie?" Or "How could you be such a klutz?" Sometimes kids overhear us talking to others: "She's my shy one."
Young children believe what they hear without question, even when it's about themselves. So negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The worst ones cut dangerously deep. Many a parent can still vividly, and bitterly, remember when her own parent said something like "You're so hopeless" (or "lazy" or "stupid").
A far better approach is to address the specific behavior and leave the adjectives about your child's personality out of it. For example, "Katie's feelings were hurt when you told everyone not to play with her. How can we make her feel better?"'Don't cry'
Variations: "Don't be sad." "Don't be a baby." "Now, now -- there's no reason to be afraid." But kids do get upset enough to cry, especially toddlers, who can't always articulate their feelings with words. They do get sad. They do get frightened.
Rather than deny that your child feels a particular way -- when he obviously does -- acknowledge the emotion up front.'Why can't you be more like your sister?'
It might seem helpful to hold out a sibling or friend as a shining example. "Look how well Sam zips his coat," you might say. Or "Jenna's using the potty already, so why can't you do that too?" But comparisons almost always backfire. Your child is herself, not Sam or Jenna.
It's natural for parents to compare their kids, to look for a frame of reference about their milestones or their behavior, say experts.
But don't let your child hear you doing it. Kids 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.
Nor does making comparisons help change behavior. Being pressured to do something she's not ready for (or doesn't like to do) can be confusing to a little kid and can undermine her self-confidence. She's also likely to resent you and resolve not to do what you want, in a test of wills.'You know better than that!'
Like comparisons, quick gibes can sting in ways parents never imagine. For one thing, a child actually may not have known better. Learning is a process of trial and error. Did your child really understand that a heavy pitcher would be hard to pour from? Maybe it didn't seem that full, or it was different from the one he's successfully poured from by himself at preschool.
And even if he made the same mistake just yesterday, your comment is neither productive nor supportive. Give your child the benefit of the doubt, and be specific. Say "I like it better if you do it this way, thank you."'Stop or I'll give you something to cry about!'
Threats, usually the result of parental frustration, are rarely effective. We sputter warnings like "Do this or else!" or "If you do that one more time, I'll spank you!"
The problem is that sooner or later you have to make good on the threat or else it loses its power. Threats of hitting have been found to lead to more spanking -- which itself has been proven to be an ineffective way to change behavior.'Wait till daddy gets home!'
This familiar parenting cliché is not only another kind of threat, it's also diluted discipline. To be effective, you need to take care of a situation immediately yourself.
Discipline that's postponed doesn't connect the consequences with your child's actions. By the time the other parent gets home, it's likely that your child will actually have forgotten what she did wrong. Alternately, the agony of anticipating a punishment may be worse than what the original crime deserved.
Passing the buck to someone else also undermines your authority. "Why should I listen to Mom if she's not going to do anything anyway?" your child may reason. Not least, you're putting your partner in an undeserved bad-cop role.'Hurry up!'
Who in this world of back-to-back appointments, overbooked schedules, sleep deficits, and traffic snarls hasn't uttered these immortal words?
Certainly every parent whose toddler can't find his shoes or blankie or who's blissfully oblivious of anything but putting on his socks "all by self!" has. Consider, though, your tone of voice when you implore a child to hurry, and how often you say it.'Great job!" or "Good girl!'
What could possibly be wrong with praise? Positive reinforcement, after all, is one of the most effective tools a parent has. The trouble comes in when the praise is vague and indiscriminate.
Tossing out "Great job!" for every little thing your child does -- from finishing his milk to drawing a picture -- becomes meaningless. Kids tune it out. They can also tell the difference between praise for doing something rote or simple and praise for a real effort.
• Praise only those accomplishments that require real effort. Finishing a glass of milk doesn't cut it. Neither does drawing a picture, if your child is the kind who makes dozens of them every day.
• Praise the behavior rather than the child: "You were so quiet with your puzzle while I was finishing that paperwork, just like I asked."