I'm not a parent myself, but I've got three nephews so I've gotten really interested in child development. Healthy, happy, inquisitive kids become healthy, happy, inquisitive adults. And for me, as not the person who has to deal with every tantrum until I'm so frazzled I say, “Here's more chocolate, now quiet down,” I can pay extra attention to what I say to them and how I respond to their behavior.
I got a lot of opportunity to practice this when I stayed at (and worked from) their house for an extended period of time last year. These are a few of the things I've learned not to say to those kids, and my experience (however limited) in using some alternatives.
Can I just admit that a crying, screaming child is in my top 10 list of most terrible noises? Believe me, I'd love it to stop. But this is how they express themselves, and when we tell them to stop, it's like saying their feelings aren't valid. Crying is a healthy emotional response to something upsetting. The solution for me? Hug them, if they want it, and let them cry.
I'm not talking about babies and self-soothing. I have no idea and make no judgment on that. I'm talking about toddlers who are throwing fits about not getting the red cup. To us, it's ridiculous. To them, it's the most important issue in their life at the moment. Would you cry about the most important issue in your life if it wasn't going your way? I would.
If they're spouting crocodile tears, I've found that letting them to it usually dries those right up, too.
This is generic and overused, and it leads to a child thinking that everything he touches is gold, no matter how much effort may or may not have gone into it. I saw evidence of this once when my oldest nephew made about 300 pictures of rainbows, each of which took him less than a minute, and each of which got sloppier than the last.
Which is totally cool. But I quit with the “good job” after that point, and instead I praise their efforts, or try to inquire more about the project. If it's a drawing, I might say, “It looks like this took awhile! I love the orange sky. How did you decide to use those colors? What else can you tell me about what's happening here?”
“You can't leave the table until you finish eating.”
Most of us have some pretty strong conditioning when it comes to food. I'm speaking of my own experience, too. Even now, the urge to “clean my plate” is strong. I've eaten beyond full more times than I'd care to admit, just to clean the plate.
I'm no expert, but I can't imagine that a healthy kid would starve himself. If he's hungry, he'll eat. This also avoids a lot of tantrums at the table. I remember having to sit there until I ate my corn. I don't like corn. I still won't eat it. Those meals were pretty traumatic (I got anxious as soon as I saw corn was being served), and I don't want to put those kinds of feelings on my nephews.
I'm not always in charge of dinner time, but when I am, I give them small servings to start. They can always have more. This helps cut down on food waste if that's what you're worried about. And when they say they're done? I let them go.
If you're a parent, is there anything you take special care not to say to your children? What do you say instead?