Three Things I Avoid Saying to My Kids
Updated: Jul 22
My journey as a mom has been a challenge.
My first kid taught me to let go of my expectations and to stop trying to get everything just right. After my second kid, I needed to start seeing a counselor again when old eating disorder thinking started to re-emerge. My third kid taught me that we never have everything figured out and that sometimes we need a little extra help. For me, anti-depressants were the extra help I needed.
This journey, aided by the expertise of a counselor, has helped me realize there are some narratives I needed to un-learn. I had to learn to see my emotions as helpful and not something to be pushed down. I had to start respecting my body and stop trying to change it. I had to realize that loving myself is not selfish but vital to being a loving mom and balanced person.
As human beings, we have the amazing ability to grow, change and evolve. We can look critically at something and decide what is working and what is not. My struggles as a mom and a human have taught me the importance of emotional intelligence, trusting my body, and respecting my unique self.
I want to empower my kids to embrace these lessons as well.
So, in the hopes of growth and positive change, I have decided to try and avoid a few common parenting phrases. Language is important. I want the world for my kids and I don't want the things I say to limit them.
Please know I am not writing this to judge any parents or caregivers. We are all doing the best we can!
Without further ado, here are the three things I try not to say:
1. “You’re ok. Stop crying.”
I want my kids to learn emotional regulation and not repression.
When I cried growing up, I often felt like an emotional, silly girl. The youngest of four kids, I tried to teach myself to be tough. When moments of uncontrolled emotions would spill out, I would feel overly dramatic, weak, and ashamed. Counseling helped me realize that my emotions are valid and can be important indicators guiding me as I make decisions.
With my kids, rather than feeling ashamed and scared of emotions, I want them to develop emotional intelligence.
Forcing my kids to “stop crying” might be quicker and make me feel less uncomfortable, however, this doesn’t teach them how to regulate and process their emotions. This multiple-step process involves understanding, labeling, and dealing with the emotion. Depending on the issue, this may involve guiding them as they calm down or helping them problem solve.
While this can take some time and is labor intensive, I hope these skills will help my children become kind, well-adjusted, flexible humans. Teaching this process is super tough and I definitely am not an expert. While this is hard work, I truly believe it will benefit my children in the long-term.
“Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-being and Success” by Marc Brackett discusses the importance of teaching emotional intelligence to children. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about practicing and teaching these skills.
2. “Finish your dinner or you don’t get dessert.”
From an early age, I always felt too big and never trusted my body around food. Restricting what and how much I ate in order to lose weight, I learned to completely ignore my body’s cues. This evolved into an eating disorder during my young adult years.
Through counseling and my recovery process, I have learned to engage in “intuitive eating.” Instead of external diets and rules, my body guides my choices depending on what food feels nourishing and pleasurable. I also tune in to my body’s unique hunger and fullness signals to determine how much I eat.
Food is important for growth and energy. I definitely understand a parent’s desire and struggle to get kids to eat the food on their plates. My concern with the “finish your dinner or you don’t get dessert” strategy is that it teaches children to ignore their own hunger and fullness signals.
Often, kids don’t learn to trust their body with how much to eat and what feels good. Instead, their parents’ rules override those signals. This phrase also puts hyper-focus on dessert which can further distort a kid’s ability to listen to their own body.
Intuitive eating is something we can start teaching kids early on. I want my children to listen to their bodies rather than parental coercion to determine what and how much to eat.
The book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole discusses in-depth research supporting this shift and has a section devoted to adapting this process for kids.
3. “Boys don’t do that”
I am a boy mom. Currently, three boys to be exact. They are each unique, special, and beautiful individuals. I want them to become the biggest, truest, loveliest versions of themselves without feeling trapped by any external pressure of what it means to be a “boy.”
The strict gender roles of our society place limitations on both girls and boys. Girls feel pressure to be beautiful, quiet, small, and selfless. I can personally relate to the harm of this narrative. As I said, I spent years of my life trying to make my body and emotions smaller in hopes of being more appealing to others.
Boys also feel intense societal pressure to conform. However, the message is different. They are expected to be strong, tough, and unemotional. This can lead to men being disconnected and unable to have meaningful relationships, unable to be creative, and unable to enjoy life.
In Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,” she discusses “toxic masculinity” and how these expectations can feel like a cage for men. For further information on how strict gender roles negatively impact both boys and girls, I highly recommend this book.
(I am not an expert in gender politics and as a cis woman, I acknowledge I do not understand the complexities of gender identities within the trans community. I know my knowledge in this area is limited and is something I hope to learn more about in the future.)
My deepest hope is for my kids to enjoy their lives and be who they were created to be. I don’t want them to feel trapped by what our modern culture thinks they should be. This can be hard because obviously, I don’t want them to be teased.
It can feel hard when my son wants a pink water bottle, reacts with big emotions, or wants to paint his toenails, not to discourage these “girly” things. While these choices may seem small, I don’t want their happiness to be limited by some silly rules. Instead, I encourage them to do what they enjoy.
I have to admit that while I try not to use these phrases, they still spill out in moments of frustration or inattention. I believe parenting is not about perfection, but rather intention. I fully acknowledge I am still learning, growing, and definitely do not have all the answers.
So, what do I say instead?
Here are a few examples:
“Ouch, did that hurt? Can I give you a hug?”
“You’re crying. Are you frustrated?”
“Would you like to eat more or is your tummy full?”
“Is this something you would enjoy?”
“Somebody might say pink is for girls, but I love that it’s your favorite color?”
“I love you so much”
“I am so glad you are my kid!”
My hope is that with some simple changes, I can avoid some of the harmful narratives common in our culture that I had to un-learn. I want to empower my kids to be emotionally intelligent, intuitive eaters, and truly confident as the wonderful people they were created to be.
My journey as a mom has been challenging, but I am so grateful for all I have learned.
Thanks for reading!