We all experience anger. Sometimes it’s directed at our co-workers, bosses, spouses, our friends, or even the family pet. Anger is a healthy emotion. It lets us know when we don’t like what’s happening, and that we want what’s happening to change or stop. A lot of times, our angry feelings escalate quickly, causing us to become overwhelmed with emotions and act without thinking rationally. This is not so healthy, as reacting impulsively out of anger often causes us to say or do things we later regret, such as pressing “send” on a flippant email response to the boss, driving too fast, slamming doors, yelling at our spouse, or worst of all, having an adult tantrum. Luckily, most of the time our angry reactions are forgivable. Sometimes, however, anger gets the best of us and we say things that aren’t so easily forgotten. Especially when it come to what we say to our kids.
In my clinical experience over the years providing therapy to children and teens, I’ve heard some horrific comments of parents. Here I highlight three of the most common, yet most negatively impactful, things parents say to kids:
- “YOU WERE A MISTAKE” or “I WISH I NEVER HAD YOU”
Types of comments like these cut to the core and can cause your child’s developing identity to become fragile, or even fracture. Every child needs a healthy dose of narcissism in order to develop the confidence to establish positive self-esteem and an independent identity. As your child develops, she looks to you to mirror positive comments and actions, which instill self-worth and a secure sense of identity. Comments that degrade one’s existence are toxic to a child’s sense of self. Make a valiant effort to avoid these at all costs. Instead, in the heat of the moment, walk away, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What will be the outcome if I say this? Will I feel better? Will it solve the problem?” Chances are, the initial problem will remain and you’ll be left feeling guilty and ashamed.
- “WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR BROTHER?”
Comparing your child to his brother, sister, cousin, friend, etc. can cause your child to believe he’ll never measure up. He will always feel lesser, which translates to your child developing the belief that he is not capable. Chronic comparisons can lead to your child having decreased motivation in school, sports, and hobbies, while also aiding in the development of depression and poor self-esteem. Additionally, chronic comparisons can bred impulsive, acting out behavior. Instead of making comparisons, ignore negative behavior whenever possible and focus on the positive behaviors of your child. Reinforce positive behaviors with praise, validation, and rewards. If you must punish negative behaviors, deliver the consequence as swiftly as possible after the behavior occurs and link the punishment to the negative behavior (e.g. Child must wash all the windows in the house after deliberately and knowingly writing an inappropriate word in marker on the living room window).
- “YOU’RE A BAD KID.”
Like #1, this type of comment attacks your child’s character and sense of being. It also can cause your child to develop dichotomous thinking (thinking things are all-or-nothing, as in “all good” or “all bad”). Consistent use of comments that threaten one’s character can cause hopelessness and can thus reinforce bad behavior, as you child begins to believe this is truly all she is capable of. Avoid comments that negatively target your child’s character and focus on the specific behavior. For example, when your daughter hits her sister, instead of saying “Bad girl!” say “Hitting is unacceptable. We do not hit in this house.”
Got a relevant comment or want to share a helpful tip about what not to say to your kids? Harmony At Home wants to know. Please comment below.