Talking to your children
I want to talk about how we talk to and about our children, and the impact that can have.
Recently I was on the escalators in our local shopping centre with my smallest daughter. We were going up and another mother and daughter were going down. I don’t know what had happened, but the mother yelled at the daughter, ‘You’re so STUPID!’ The daughter looked mortified, close to tears, and you could tell she felt about two inches tall. My daughter turned and looked at me with eyes like saucers. She’s only three but she was shocked.
There are a few things about this. First, there’s this thing called a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you tell someone something often enough, they start to believe it and it becomes their reality. Even more so if the person saying it is someone in a position of authority, like a parent or a teacher. Even more so if that message is received by a child, who is still developing the skills to question information and reject what they disagree with.
Think about it. When you were younger, what were you told? I was told I was intelligent, a swot, an introvert, not very competitive, not very sporty, rather posh. As an adult, I dispute quite a lot of these. I know a lot of people who are much cleverer than me, and a psychometric test shows I’m actually an extrovert. But I became those things for a while because that was the message I heard over and over.
So, whatever you tell your child sticks, both positive and negative. Whatever your child overhears you telling other people about them also sticks, sometimes more so because those can be very candid comments. Don’t assume your child isn’t listening, because they are.
Think about the language you are using. Instead of ‘You’re so stupid’, say, ‘That was a very silly thing to do’. Don’t make it a personal attack, make the action the problem. That’s easier for them to recover from, and also something you can support them with resolving. You can make different choices with what you do, but it’s much more difficult to change who you are.
If you’re giving praise, be specific. Instead of, ‘That’s a great piece of writing!’, tell them why you think so – maybe there’s an interesting description or they’ve really worked on their handwriting. That way they know how to replicate those good things. Also, try to say, ‘You worked really hard’, or ‘You tried really hard, and you did it’, rather than ‘You’re so sporty / clever’, because that implies that they have control over outcomes by the effort they put in rather than it being a pre-defined thing.
These feedback techniques stand true for adults too, by the way. 😊
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this, or any examples or situations you’ve come across. Thanks for reading.