Every parent has come across frustrating situations with their kids. Parents may unleash harsh words when feeling helpless or angry and they may regret it later. Kids may interpret these words as a sign that they are not loved, or that they are being rejected as a human being. If parents use these hurtful words regularly, kids may grow up with the wrong impression and not build self-confidence or trust. Finding the right balance between love, support and discipline is key for a healthy relationship.
Discipline teaches kids self-control, and it is usually reinforced by a set of rules. When these rules are broken, parents may feel disappointed and resort to punishment. Verbal punishment may rely on shame and humiliation. By not thinking about the long-term consequences of their words, parents may shame their children even if they don’t intend to. Though shaming may be effective at quickly stopping unwanted behavior, it can ruin the relationship between parents and kids in the long run and lead to a cycle of toxic communication and resentment. If poor communication gets out of hand, it may be best to consult with a family therapist. They’ll be able to help family members while facilitating communication in an emotionally neutral manner.
To effectively improve kid’s behavior while keeping a healthy relationship, work on communication and lay down your expectations so the kids know what you want from them. Children can learn through both positive (compliments, encouragements…) or negative reinforcements (punishments, sanctions…). When choosing the latter, it is important that parents pay attention to their choice of words and avoid expressing anger in an unhealthy way.
Often, parents may not even realize why what they’re saying is hurtful. They may have heard it from their own parents, from the media or TV. Drama is normalized in our daily lives, children aren’t born with a resilience to harsh words. They can develop this resilience, but in the process they can also distance themselves from the people they hear them from. While exact words can sometimes be forgotten, feelings stay longer and may leave a sour taste, even if kids act like they don’t care.
As much as all parents want to be perfect, sometimes hurtful phrases slip out. Here are some things people commonly say when disciplining their children, that should be avoided:
"You are bad/lazy/stupid/etc.!"
When scolding a child, remember to differentiate the person from their behavior. Kids learn right from wrong by testing boundaries. They look up to their caregiver for approval or disapproval. Saying that an action is bad isn’t the same as saying the person is bad.
“Why aren’t you more like your sister/brother/cousin?”
Comparing your child to others is human. We constantly check whether what we are doing fits the norms, but our society also needs diversity. Everyone has different, from their temperaments, personalities, preferences, achievements, goal. Instead of forcing your child to fit into a mold or comparing them to their peers, empower the strengths and quirks that make them unique. If your child has difficulties, put yourself in their shoes and think about a solution.
“When I was your age…”
Parents may have high expectations for their kids if they experienced tough situations growing up. The truth is that people’s perceptions and thoughts evolve across generations. When you compare yourself to your child, you are putting them in an inferior position and letting them know you’re better than them.
“Get out of here”
Certain parents may learn to send their kids away to hide them from all negative emotions or situations. While this behavior can be protective, it does not give the child the opportunity to learn from his/her mistake. It’s best to include them in finding the solution and work on it together so they learn to handle problems rather than ignoring them.
“You are just like your mom/dad”
This sentence may come up if parents are separated or divorced. A couple’s problems should not be taken out on a child. If you have issues accepting your partner or ex-partner’s flaws or have negative feelings towards them, deal with it first amongst adults, and do not take it out on someone else.
Anything about their physical appearance
People may like to joke around without having bad intentions. However, even the smallest and most trivial comment about a child’s physical appearance or their choice of clothing can destroy their self-worth and create body image issues. For example, if you’re calling out your kid on their lack of motivation, don’t associate it with their weight. It may stick with your child forever or create eating disorders in the future.
“You should know better”
It’s not pleasant to hear this, even as an adult, because we feel guilt or shame. We instinctively feel defensive and tense. We do not want to lower kids’ self-esteem by assuming they already know how to do everything.
Words have a lot of impact, even when they’re not fully understood by children of a young age. Children grow up internalizing what they hear and may grow up with resentment or low confidence. It’s important to choose words wisely and think before speaking too quickly. If you’re trying to break a toxic generational cycle, make sure you’re not too hard on yourself. You’re already doing a great job at being mindful and thinking like a conscious parent. If hurtful words slip out accidentally, make sure to apologize and take them back. Humility is an important part of kids’ education. If they learn that it is acceptable to make mistakes, they’ll also learn to forgive others and themselves.