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4 seemingly harmless things to stop saying to your kids

Posted November 13

You've probably said one or more of these things to your kid, and they seem harmless enough. But they could be having a negative impact on their self-esteem and well-being. Find out why you might want to banish these words and how to respond instead. (Deseret Photo)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard yourself saying one or more of the following phrases. They seem harmless enough, but they could be causing your child more stress than you realize. Maybe it’s time to banish these words from your everyday interactions with your kids.

1. Hurry up

When Rachel Macy wrote a piece on The Huffington Post about the damage the words “hurry up” were doing to her “laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child,” it hit a nerve. So much so, that the post has now been shared over 340,000 times.

Small children can be infuriatingly slow. They want to dawdle and explore and examine. They want to smell flowers, pet dogs and collect shells. They want to think, dream and consider options. Know what? We should probably let them.

Stress-related health problems are killing adults in the western world at an alarming rate. Writing in Psychology Today, Rosemary K M Sword and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D. warn against something they call ‘hurry sickness,’ which they describe as, “a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.”

That sense of urgency isn’t necessary or helpful, and it certainly isn’t beneficial to our long-term health and well-being.

Sword and Zimbardo believe it can have serious consequences. As they put it:

“We can try to sustain living at breakneck speed but sooner or later, physically, mentally and/or emotionally we fall apart.”

Is that really what we want for our children? Perhaps they don’t need to hurry up. Maybe we need to slow down.

2. Calm down

Most of us have told a small child having a meltdown to calm down. How did that work for you? Did it miraculously calm him down, or did it escalate the situation?

Behavioral economist, Tremaine du Preez, claims that “calm down” may be the worst advice to give when someone is angry, and most of us can figure out why.

As soon as someone tells us to calm down, we feel like they’re implying our feelings aren’t valid. That may not be their intention, of course. People often use the phrase when our reaction isn’t appropriate, even if our emotions are justified, but if we have trouble making that distinction, a child certainly will.

Sometimes it’s much more calming, for a child or an adult, to acknowledge their emotions, show understanding and let them calm down in their own good time.

3. Don’t cry

We all hate to see our child crying, but again, saying "don’t cry" to a child who is crying (or about to start) isn’t helpful. Tears are an involuntary response for most people, so telling someone to stop crying is similar to telling someone to stop bleeding. It won’t work.

What’s more, crying is a perfectly healthy and natural emotional response. Some research even suggests that crying can make you physically healthier too.

We’re particularly likely to tell boys of all ages that “big boys don’t cry.” This can be a real mistake. It’s widely believed that crying is a natural stress reliever, meaning that an inability to express emotions in this way could lead to more stress related problems throughout life.

Sometimes it’s fine to let a child have a little cry. They may even feel better for it.

4. Not now

Every parent has had to deal with a request they just can’t address straight away. Maybe it’s a game to be played or a story to be read, and you’re just way too busy adulting. That’s fair enough, but brushing our children off with the standard parental response of “not now” could be doing more harm than we realize.

Writing in Psychology Today, Tara Brach, Ph.D. talks about how easily a lack of response, or an irritated response, from a parent can cause children to feel unloved or unimportant.

She also refers to what author Tara Bennett-Goleman calls “the magic quarter second.” This is the space between when our child asks for our attention and when we say “not now.” It takes just a quarter of a second for us to decide we’re too busy, but with training and mindfulness, it can also take just a quarter of a second for us to decide to respond differently.

A lot of the time, we can put off what we’re doing to engage with our child. Even if we can’t, we can maybe re-train ourselves to replace “not now” with “I’d love to. Can it wait until I’ve finished this? I’ll have time to really enjoy it, then.”

Changing your responses to common situations really can help change your child’s behavior and improve your relationship. Isn’t that worth a little re-training on your part?

Karen Banes is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, lifestyle and entrepreneurship. Contact her at her website http://www.karenbanes.com/.or via Twitter where she tweets as @KarenBanes.

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