Three Things I Avoid Saying to My Kids
Language is important. I want the world for my kids and I don't want the things I say to limit my kids ability to regulate emotions, listen to their bodies and find what brings them joy. So, I have decided to try and avoid a few common parenting phrases.
Here are 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 and weak.
With my kids, rather than feeling ashamed and scared of emotions, I want them to develop emotional intelligence.
Forcing a kid to “stop crying” might be quicker and feel less uncomfortable, however, I want to teach my children to process their emotions. This is a multiple step process involving 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 be labor intensive and difficult, I hope these skills will help my children become kind, well-adjusted, flexible humans.
“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.”
Food is important for growth and energy. I understand that parents want kids to eat the food on their plates. My concern with this 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 also puts hyper focus on dessert which can further distort a kid’s ability to listen to their own body.
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 completely ignored 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 into my body’s unique hunger and fullness signals to determine how much I eat.
This type of 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 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. There is a lot of discussion about how girls feel pressure to be beautiful, quiet, small and selfless. I can personally relate to the harm of this narrative.
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 unable to have meaningful connections, 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. (It is one of my favorite books of all time.)
I want my boys 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. I also don’t want them to be teased.
It can feel hard when my son wants a pink water bottle, reacts emotionally or wants to paint his toe nails, not to discourage these “girly” things. While these choices seem small, I don’t want their joy to be limited by some silly rules. Instead, I encourage them to do what they enjoy.
While I try not to use these phrases, they can still spill out in moments of frustration or inattention. I believe parenting is not about perfection, but rather intention.
Here are some things I do say: “Ouch, did that hurt? Can I give you a hug?” “You’re crying. Did that make 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. I want to empower my kids to be emotionally intelligent, intuitive eaters, truly confident as the wonderful people they were created to be.
Thanks for reading!
End note: I am not an expert in gender politics and as a cis woman, I acknowledge I do not understand the complexities of gender norms 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.