When you were a kid, you probably swore to yourself that you would never, ever repeat certain adages and proverbs that your own parents told you. But, now that you’ve got children of your own, you probably find yourself making the mistake of repeating mantras you grew up hearing.
Childish rebellion isn’t the only thing that points out the fault in adages like “Say you’re sorry” and “If you can’t say anything nice…” Logical, responsible parenting can also reject the use of some negative and hurtful sayings.
Bad Parenting Adages: “Because I said so!”
Children ask “why” because that’s the only way they know how to learn. When a child wants to know why you’re leaving the playground, why he can’t play with matches, or why he can’t spend the night at a friend’s house, it’s not because he’s challenging your authority: it’s because this is the only way he can understand the adult world.
To tell a child that “because I said so” is a legitimate answer, is to tell him that explanations don’t matter and that he should blindly follow any and all authority figures without learning how any of it works– a sure method to render him unable to make his own decisions. It is never wise to deny your child education about the functions of a society.
Bad Parenting Adages: “Say you’re sorry.”
When we insist that children apologize because we think they should, we are essentially telling them to lie. The child may grunt “I’m sorry” under his breath to a sibling or playmate he just hit, but unless he actually feels remorseful about his action, this will just built resentment. Instead of forcing children to apologize when they don’t mean it, we should work toward getting them to understand what they should feel sorry in the first place.
If we instill our children with a sense of empathy by pointing out how their actions affect others, they will naturally apologize without force or resentment. Instead of “You’ve been bad! Say you’re sorry!” something like “Look how you made your sister feel when you hit her! How would you have felt?” can work to create true sympathy, rather than fake apologies.
Bad Parenting Adages: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Like adults, children need to feel heard in order to feel secure, and no one’s opinions include only nice things. Imagine what our world would look like if adults only said nice things about politicians, consumer products, and world history! We may not have nice things to say about the holocaust, ecological destruction, or social injustice, but we say what we think anyway. Dissent is what keeps the world spinning round.
Children must be taught that it is okay for them to have a negative opinion of someone or something: be it the kid across the street who stomps bugs for fun or the taste of last night’s dinner. Rather than teaching them to avoid expressing their opinions, parents should focus on teaching them polite and productive ways to go about creating change.
Bad Parenting Adages: “You’re a bad girl/boy!”
If you tell a child that he is bad, he just might believe you. And if he believes you, he is likely to follow with behavior patterns that fit this assumption. Children will eagerly follow nearly any label that we apply to them. If we call them “spoiled”, that is what they become. If we call them “hateful”, they to the best they can to live up to our expectations.
No child is perfect, but the best way to insure a child’s imperfections is to communicate that his identity and his behavior are one and the same. There is no harm in telling a child that something he does is hurtful, silly, or mean, but there is a great deal of harm in tellling him that his own identity is based in these labels.
As parents, we owe it to our children to put thought into our roles as parents. Beyond repeating the mantras that we grew up hearing, we must teach them with dignity, thought, and respect.