I am writing this from a state of disgust and irritation. But it’s about kids, and what they hear and how they learn and that is something very dear to my heart.
Recently in the last few weeks I’ve overheard parents talking to their kids. It is remarkable the vast difference in how information is communicated to these small people. In one instance, I don’t think I heard a single positive thing said by the parent to his children. In the time I was present to witness them, I just heard commands controlling their behavior, and over and over cutting the kids down. Lots of sentences started with “Can’t” and “Don’t” and “Stop” and “No.” Several times the possibilities and hopes spoken aloud by the child were dashed by this parent’s limited concepts of what was possible, adding what was wrong with the child as far as why his dreams were futile. It physically hurt to listen to. I have no doubt the parent was eager to help his children grow up right, strong, safe and smart. But the way he was directing them made my stomach turn. I wanted to scream, “I wonder if your kids ever do anything RIGHT????” I wanted to wonder aloud, “Do you even LIKE them?” And of course he does. He loves them. But it was hard watching the light go out of their eyes in the face of trying to do right, to please, and to explore imagination while battling an onslaught of negativity, and displeasure.
This morning I overheard a parent yelling at her daughter. Her tone was condescending, and her words were disrespectful and belittling. Her volume was loud. I don’t know the story of what their situation was, but I do know this little girl has some behavioral/social issues that makes her a difficult child to be around for very long. I’m perhaps beginning to understand why she doesn’t listen to her mom, follow rules, or behave kindly. I wonder how many positive things she hears, and how often.
Contrast that with overhearing parents talk with their kids at an organized event – a fundraiser for The Wild and Scenic Institute to support getting disadvantaged kids out into the wilderness. The parents I heard were respectful, clear, spoke in a calm voice, listened to their kids. One parent I heard was saying, “…I’m not comparing you to your brother in any way. What I’m saying is that if you were to [do this instead of that]…it might work out better for you.” She spoke with kindness and empathy, clarifying something the child had misinterpreted. These kids were great communicators, clearly understood that they had a voice and their opinions and ideas mattered.
It makes a difference. I read an article this morning about 3 tools to send your kids to school with that aren’t on the list of school supplies. It is spot on with three important – essential – skills to teach your child so that she has resiliency and personal strength, can relax and enjoy social interactions. This is great information, and a great reminder about what is truly important to grow happy, healthy kids so they can be happy, healthy adults.
It is hard to parent well. It is. We all do our best and we all fall short more often than we want to. And then hopefully we apologize, repair and try and do better.
But let’s start really paying attention to how we speak to our young people. To our unborn babies, our infants, our toddlers, school aged kids and our teens. They are people, and they don’t need yelling at, condescended to, belittled, shut down, put down or disrespected. Yes, we need boundaries and firm communication. Yes we need to guide and set limits. And yes, YES, we get angry and scared that we’re going to “do it wrong.” We need to have compassion for ourselves on this journey of parenthood. But we still get to travel it, and do our best to improve the scenery along the way.
But let’s be respectful in our communication. Let’s try to say positive things to our kids. Shoot for a ratio of at least 7 positive statements to every negative one. Tell them why we love them, why they are amazing, and celebrate their ideas and hopes and accomplishments. Let’s tell them they can do and be anything if they want it bad enough and work hard for it. And let’s look at ourselves when we get carried away with negativity. What did we hear from our own parents about who we are? What is the desire to control our kids and put them into narrow molds? Is it fear that we will be “bad” parents if we don’t? Let’s investigate our internal messages that are leaking out in negative ways and strive to change them. Is it possible to model the type of person we hope they will become with speaking positively and respectfully?
Let’s create more joy in our lives! Let’s play, have fun, laugh and BE NICE TO OUR CHILDREN in our daily interactions!