As parents, we usually don’t even think twice about the things we say to our children. Yet, growing up kids are impressionable who will remember a lot of what is said to them, especially words that hurt.
Experts say many factors impact the way we communicate with our little ones, which can vary from our own ability to relate information succinctly, to their ability to understand language, as well as how they reason and process the information being shared.
Explains psychologist Dr Sanveen Kang of Thomson Paediatric Centre, “Communication is a two-way street where what is said might not always be understood in the way that was intended, which also comprises non-verbal components. All of these factors result in parenting being a rather challenging process.”
Dr Kang feels that whilst it is possible to say things which might negatively impact our children’s opinion of themselves and the world around them, it is important to first understand what we mean by damaging comment.
“Don’t act when you’re angry as your ability to solve problems, reason or react appropriately is compromised.”
The second is to understand that “damage” often occurs over time (unless it is a case of abuse) and that one would need to reinforce the negative and unhelpful comments over a period of time. Finally, it would be to understand that all children are individuals who cope differently with various scenarios.
Dr Kang’s advice to parents is ― don’t act when you’re angry as your ability to solve problems, reason or react appropriately is compromised. “In the event that something regrettable has been uttered, it is important to own up to the child and have an unbiased conversation surrounding the initial issue.”
She adds, “Parents can start by talking about how their words or responses are not appropriate, say they are sorry and ask for the opportunity to work through the problem again.”
Dr Kang offers parents suggestions on how to curb their rising anger when talking to their kids, so as to avoid uttering words they might regret saying later:
* Give yourself a timeout ― walk away from the situation for a few minutes.
* Explore way that best calms you down.
* Recognise that your child is not responsible for making you flare up ― own it to tame it.
* Engage your spouse’s support when you feel that you can’t manage the situation appropriately.
* If you find yourself struggling with anger constantly, seek professional help.
Incidentally, some seemingly innocent and harmless comments parents make also have the potential to hurt children. These incldue “Great job”, “You are so clever”, as well as “Good boy/girl”. Why should this be so, you wonder?
Dr Kang explains that while praise for children might be seen as affirming and positive, some studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can actually harm learning. So, rather than focus on their ability saying, “You did really well; you’re so clever’, focus on their hard work and say this instead, “You did really well ― you must have tried really hard”.
She adds, “Children who are given effort-based praise are more likely to show willingness to work out new approaches. They are often more resilient and tend to attribute failure to lack of effort, not lack of ability.
“Those who are praised for their intelligence tend to choose tasks that confirm what they already know, display less resilience when problems get harder, and worry more about failure.”
While praise for children might be seen as affirming and positive, some studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can actually harm learning.
Since children tend to rely on their parents for their sense of self, being regularly subjected to damaging comments will likely take a personal toll on them. “It impacts their self-concept, self-esteem and view of the world. Over time, this can lead to them externalising problems such as anger and related outbursts; develop emotional problems such as depression, and even impact the way children interact with others as they mature and form their own relationships.”
Dr Kang offers strategies to communicate effectively with your kids:
1. Use positive language to tell your child what to do.
3. The brain is like a muscle ― you need to use it to build it up. Therefore, use teachable moments to build positive connections in your child’s brain.
4. Always connect with your child before redirecting them. Connecting creates opportunities for your child to practise calming down while reducing the emotional acceleration. It also helps us communicate that we value our relationship with our child.
6. Also consider your facial expressions, tone of voice, postures, gestures, timing of response, intensity of response and body language.
7. Speak at an appropriate volume.
8. Talk to your child when you are calm as trying to solve problems when you’re angry or upset takes you out from the present moment.
9. Suggest options and alternatives, which helps to make the child feel as though they have choices.
10. Be clear, consistent and set predictable limits for your child.
11. Be careful of using attacking words such as “You are useless”.
12. Observe your child’s behaviour during the conversation. Allow them to explain their opinions and reasoning. Start with empathy and validation. Identifying your child’s feelings helps him feel understood.
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