When our kids were little we had a nightly prayer ritual. Each night we would thank God for various blessings including friends and family members. For a couple of years, Jacob replaced the word “grandparents” with “damparents.”
We’ve laughed throughout the years over the irony of his mispronunciation. Clearly his intent was good. But, the actual words used could have easily led to misunderstandings.
Isn’t that how it is sometimes even for us adults? We say one thing but mean another. Or, we say something that is misinterpreted.
Children are especially vulnerable to misinterpreting communication. As we know, there’s more to communication than the words including nonverbal signals and tone.
When it comes to children, there are two reasons words matter: 1) Children receive messages literally. 2) Children believe everything their parents say. Every. Thing. Parents—and really all adults—should consider possible hidden messages behind words.
“How we feel about our kids isn’t as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them … What matters is the message our kids receive, not the one we think we’re sending.” ~Alfie Kohn
As a teacher, I know the only thing that matters is what the children learn. I can teach the best lesson ever, but if my students don’t learn then it’s my responsibility to find a way to reach them.
It’s a powerful concept even for parents. There are phrases we heard as a child and now have carried into our parenting that, with a little tweaking, can send a message of unconditional love rather than confusion.
Here are a few examples of things we say, along with what to say instead.
|Don’t cry.||It’s okay to cry.|
|Why can’t you be more like your brother?||You are special just the way you are.|
|You’re okay.||I’m listening to you.|
|It’s no big deal.||That seems important to you.|
|Why did you do that?||Tell me what happened.|
|You’re a bad boy.||It’s okay to make mistakes.|
Of course, we’re human. And we undoubtedly love our children. There are times, however, when every parent’s humanity interferes with the message children perceive.
“It doesn’t matter that you “didn’t mean it” or that you were “just joking.” Sometimes, words just hurt. And we who use them have a responsibility to do so with an awareness of the impact they may have.” ~ Jeff Goins
The ultimate test of what parents say and do should always be filtered through a message of unconditional love.
One thing every parent should tell their children often is this…
Nothing you do or say will change my love for you.