Messages we give our kids. Are yours encouraging or discouraging?

Are your words sending the right messages to your kids?

Recognize any of these parental phrases . . .

Be careful!      Be quiet!     Shame on you!      Be nice!      Be good!
Don’t get into trouble!         Not so fast! Not so high!        Hurry up!
Don’t cry!     Don’t be a baby!    Be a big boy/girl!     Stop whining!
Here, let me do that!    You are not old enough yet.    Don’t/Stop it!

My two most frequently used phrases were “Be careful!” and “Here, let me do that!”. This was before I learned, as a student in my first parenting class, that by using these words I was sending an underlying message of discouragement. It was an “Aha!” moment. In order to be a positive influence on my daughters’ lives, I knew I needed to make a change. Since that moment, I began being mindful of the message my words were sending. I also realized how important it was for me, as a parent, to expand my parenting knowledge. I wanted to learn some effective tools. Previously parenting by “default”, I had not deliberately thought much about my parenting skills – or my lack of them.

When I said, “Be careful!”, it came from my desire to be a protecting parent. I did not want my girls to get hurt, break or spill anything, or damage my stuff. Any “good” parent would certainly want their child to “Be careful”, right? O.K. get ready, here it comes: when you say, “Be careful”, the underlying message is that the world is a scary place. . . Don’t be too daring. . . Make sure you hold back a bit. You might be asking right now, “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you. But what else could you say? Why would you not want your child to watch out for danger, or not be the first one to try something new, or be the first one to raise his hand in class, if he wasn’t sure his answer was right? The encouraging alternative is, “Take care of yourself.” Or, taking it a step further, “Take care of yourself, and take lots of risks today.” Well, I switched to saying, “Take care of yourself,” because I did not want my daughters to be afraid of life. I wanted them to be
confident, powerful, and unafraid to step out there and try new things. I desired for them to experience all that they could, while at the same time knowing that they knew how to take care of themselves. They knew not to just run out into the street. They knew not to put their hand on the hot stove. They had all the basic information. And when they headed to New York City for school, each on their own, without mom and dad, I was comfortable knowing how prepared and capable they were in taking care of themselves.

I completely understand if your skepticism meter is pegging. What about the kid who is bullied? What about all the drugs out there? What about a kid being overpowered? How does that kid take care of herself? How does saying, “Hey, take care of yourself today”, help significantly? It assists you and your child in seeing her as confident and powerful, rather than a victim. Realize, this is just one item from the list of Encouraging Messages (see below) to consider doing differently in your parenting. You will not necessarily see results immediately, but I guarantee, over time it will make a difference. This is really no different than your child learning to walk, talk, feed himself, dress himself, tie her shoes, use the toilet, brush her teeth, do a cartwheel, ride a bike, catch a ball, read, write, add, subtract. The results of those things are easily recognized, and remember, they were all learned. So, in being mindful of the words you use, choosing phrases that send
an encouraging message, you are nurturing your child’s self-esteem and confidence.

Your assignment: For a couple of days keep a mental tally of often you say, “be careful”, or one of the other common statements. Next, switch to using the encouraging alternative as indicated in the list provided. Let me know how you are doing. This simple change will make a major difference in the life of your child.

Oh, my other favorite common statement is, “Here, let me do that.” Well, I still work on this one. Instead of being encouraging by saying, “I know you can do this. If you need any help, I am here”, I’d just jump in and do it my way, so I’d be sure that it was done right. When I was working in industry, supervising a work group, it helped me a great deal when I chose the encouraging phrase. I allowed someone to make the job their own, while giving them the training needed for them to be successful, and then I got out of their way. The result was that the place ran smoothly with, or without, me present. As with the people I supervised I also wanted my daughters to be able to function on their own. They do.

So from me to you, as you head out the door every day this month to work or play, “Take care of yourself, have fun, and take risks.” You can do it, and so can your kid.

Encouraging Messages List (click to go to)

It’s all about the relationship.

As always, please leave a comment in the space below and share this within your own social media network if you are so moved.

And keep asking yourself, “If I approached my parenting as seriously as I do my profession, what would I be doing to improve my skill, and get better results?”

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