The Way We Speak To Our Kids Matters

I was walking into Safeway the other day and overheard a mom dragging her wily toddler along, commenting, “Come on, slowpoke, let’s go let’s go let’s go!” It was innocent enough, but something in her tone of voice sounded a bit too grating. Part of me empathized with the mom, because I have definitely been there before, but part of me also sympathized with the child, wondering, does his mom speak to him like that all the time?

As I have been delving more into parent work at my job, I’ve become more aware of the way we speak to our kids. I pay close attention not just to the phrasing we use but also our tones of voices, my own included.

Some of the more common phrases I have observed recently include: “Hurry up, we are going to be late!”, “If I have to tell you this one more time…”, “You are driving me crazy!” or “Don’t touch that!” and even, “I’ll give you something to cry about!” (that person was having a really bad day).

I have to say, I would never want to live with someone who talked to me like that! If I spoke to my friends that way, I don’t think I would have any left. And I can’t imagine the level of resentment, anger and sadness my husband would feel towards me if I used that tone with him regularly.

Now I know the relationship we have with our kids is different and more difficult than that with adults, and we all have bad moments where we get frustrated and say things we don’t mean (or at least don’t want to admit out loud). But I’m wondering if those moments happen more often than we’d like to think, and I worry about the chronic impact of being spoken to like that has on our kids.

There is myriad research on how and why we should speak more positively to our kids, including the impact it has on our relationship with them, their internal view of themselves, and ultimately the way they interact with others as they grow older.

So let’s look at a few things we could all do a little differently to help us speak more positively to our kids:

  1. Slow things down and re-prioritize. Anyone living in the Bay Area knows we are all in a big rush all the time. My family is always racing out the door, which means I’m often snapping at my kids repeatedly, yelling at them to put on their shoes, grab their lunch, and hurry up already. Recently I have started trying to simplify our schedules a bit so we don’t feel so busy and ragged all the time. 
  2. Prepare in advance. I also try to anticipate our needs ahead of time. Which means I pack lunches the night before, line shoes and jackets by the door so we aren’t scavenging around for them in the morning, and encourage the kids to lay out their outfits before bed.  If you can identify the most stressful times of your day and plan ahead, this can eliminate a lot of the frustrated communication. 
  3. Practice what you really want to say. Obviously our kids often need limits and reminders, but the words and tone we choose makes a difference. Instead of sighing with exacerbation and saying, “what is the matter with you!” try finding a more productive way to get your point across. If you can, stop what you’re doing and give your kid the attention they’re craving; most of the time they just want to show or tell you something quickly and then get back to what they were doing. If you can’t pause to give them a second, then try something along the lines of, “I really want to hear what you have to say, but I’m in the middle of something right now. Let me finish up what I’m doing because I really want to give you my full attention.” This allows them to feel validated and heard but also teaches them patience and respect. Need more ideas? Check out here and here.
  4. Try to leave your work at work. This may seem nearly impossible, especially for those who feel obligated to be available by phone and email all day. But trying to get work done when our kids are around is setting ourselves up to make an exasperated comment. Setting these boundaries for yourself will make you more emotionally available to your kids and less likely to snap at someone. 
  5. If you’re feeling stressed, take a deep breath….

To read more, check out Mid-Peninsula Mom’s Blog.

(This post originally appeared on Mid-Peninsula Mom’s Blog on August 30, 2017)

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