Monday, May 5, 2014

Top Ten Things We Shouldn't Say to our Children

Okay, so this post is pretty off-topic, but since I’m still taking a break from my writing tips, I’m declaring every topic fair game. Today, I got to thinking about some of the things I’ve told my children in the past, some of things my parents have said to me, and some of the things I’ve heard people tell their children. Most of these bits of advice are well-meaning. Many are ridiculous. Others are outdated. Let’s see if you agree with me…

#1 Your face will freeze like that. My grandma used to say this to me when I frowned or pouted. As a young child, I was smart enough to suspect my face wouldn’t really freeze in a hideous expression, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Grandma achieved the desired results because I usually stopped frowning/snarling/pouting at least long enough to visit a mirror. Harmless? Ridiculous? Threatening and possibly terrifying to a young child who takes everything literally and puts all their trust in you? You be the judge.

#2 You can do anything you set your mind to. This is another grandma-ism. It’s a nice self-esteem-builder and confidence-booster. So why shouldn’t we say it to our children? Because it isn’t true. I think we should encourage our children to try and do their best, but inevitably, they are going to fail at some of their endeavors. They’re not going to succeed at everything they set their mind to. And, you know what? They shouldn’t necessarily try out every hare-brained scheme that pops into their minds. So, go ahead and give your kids that boost of confidence they need, but be realistic. If they set their mind to jumping off the roof of your two-story house onto the trampoline below, is that a good idea? Can they really work a part-time job, play on two sports teams, get straight As and do volunteer work? Help your child set realistic goals without stifling their dreams. No one can do everything, at least not all at once. Not every child can be a professional baseball-playing-billionaire-doctor-lawyer-astronaut-lion-tamer. They just can’t.

#3 Just be yourself and everyone will like you. Are you sure? Some people are never going to like you.Sometimes lots of people aren’t going to like you. Let’s face it, some children are ultra-sensitive. Some are obnoxious. Some children have developmental or emotional disabilities that other children have a hard time understanding. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself. I’m definitely not advocating conformity. But when we tell our children that everyone will like them, we are truly setting them up for heartache. Because when they go forth being the best self they can be and some snot-nosed bully pushes them in the lunchroom, what have we really taught our child? Your “self” isn’t good enough.

#4 The best way to handle a bully is to ignore them. Ask any child who has ever been bullied and they’ll tell you this approach absolutely does not work. Neither does “beating them at their own game” by turning the tables. I’m sure I’ll get comments giving me examples of how so-and-so’s brother in the 1950s thwarted a bully by kicking their butt in the schoolyard. Sorry, but that doesn’t work nowadays. Somehow the sneaky bullies get away with their behavior while the non-sneaky victim gets in trouble for retaliation. You can’t ignore a bully, nor should you expect your child to do so. Would you tell your child to ignore sexual abuse? A drug-dealer accosting them at the bus stop? Then why would you tell your child to ignore a bully? Don’t tell your child to “suck it up” or belittle what they’re experiencing by writing it off as “name calling” or “kids being kids.” Constant, persistent emotional, verbal, or physical abuse at the hands of a peer can cause your child to be depressed, hopeless, even suicidal. By telling your child to ignore a bully, you’re telling your child their feelings do not matter. Is that what you really want to say?

#5 Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. Hmm. This goes back to #4. Words hurt. Words can kill. Children have taken their own lives after being ruthlessly bullied via social media or text message.

#6 You’re the smartest in your class/ best on your team. There’s nothing wrong with giving your child a compliment when they’ve earned it. Nothing wrong with building their self-esteem either. But, can every child be the best or smartest at everything? No, and they don’t need to be. Children should strive to do their best, not be the best. Not everyone will earn a spot on the traveling team. Not everyone will be inducted into the Honor Society. If your child has spent their entire life being told they’re the best or the smartest or the fastest, what are they going to do when they meet someone smarter, faster, or better? Being the best or the smartest is a lot to live up to.

#7 Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Not true. We don’t always do things correctly on our first try. We learn from our mistakes. Yes, children should have a work ethic. They should have pride in authorship. But, what does this saying really tell our children? “If you can’t make the traveling team, you might as well give up playing baseball altogether.” Or, “Why continue to sing if you didn’t make Concert Choir?” There are lots of things people should continue to do even if they aren’t very good at it. It’s okay to play an instrument, or sing karaoke, or join a sports team for the sake of having fun.

#8 You have to go to college. No you don’t. There are lots of successful people who didn’t go to college. And, there are lots of college graduates who can’t find a job or are stuck working at a job they hate. If your child wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, they will have to go to college. Certain careers require a college degree. But guess what? It isn’t the end of the world if your child decides to pursue other interests. Would you rather have a child who is happily working as a landscaper, or a child with a business degree who is paying student loans for twenty years while looking out the window of his corner office wishing he was a landscaper? There’s no shame in doing a job you enjoy, getting your hands dirty, working in fast-food, or being (gasp) a starving novelist. If you’re the parent of a teenager, I totally understand why you might want to steer him or her toward a realistic, but fulfilling career, but please remember that not every child has a burning desire to be a lawyer or an accountant. If you’re the parent of a four year old, please don’t squash his baby-angel dreams of being a clown or Christmas-tree-seller, or school bus driver. My thirteen-year-old son currently wants to be a professional skateboarder and have his own Youtube channel with tons of subscribers. I have to force myself to stop saying, “Don’t you want to go to college?” He’s thirteen. His dreams will change. And if they don’t? I’ll be sharing his skateboarding videos and Youtube channel with EVERYONE!

#9 Only babies/girls/sissies cry. What a horrible thing to say to a child–or to anyone, for that matter. Every child experiences grief, frustration, anger, sadness, or pain. These are all valid reasons to cry. I cringe when I hear parents (usually fathers) tell their children (usually sons) not to cry. I’m blessed to have husband who has never said that to our sons or daughters. By telling your child not to cry, you are invalidating their emotions. I’m in my forties, and I still cry. Crying is cathartic. Crying is cleansing. Crying is NOT just for babies.

#10 You’re not special. There’s been a recent backlash against helicopter parents and their helpless children. The “back in my day” brigade want us to banish “participation trophies” and end accommodations. Sure, there are kids who feel a sense of entitlement, or who have been so coddled, they scarcely know how to do their own laundry at the age of eighteen. But, you know what? Every child deserves to feel special to someone. There’s a huge difference between being special and being entitled. No, the world doesn’t owe you anything. Yes, you have to work for what you want in life. But, you’re still special. I’m special to my mom, my kids, and my husband. My kids will always be special to me. There’s nothing wrong with making our children feel special. And there’s nothing wrong with letting them face the consequences when they mess up.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment and let’s start a conversation.

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