I was walking to my car the other day and passed by a mother with her child of 2-3 years. They were sitting at a table finishing up what appeared to be their lunch. When I was a few yards away, the child quietly asked the mother for something, to go somewhere. The mother's reply: "If you're good, then we'll do that." She not only said it once, but for some reason (perhaps at the child's insistence) repeated herself a couple more times.
When I heard her words, I flinched. It was like sandpaper on my brain. At that very moment, the child let out a tortured sounding squeal and I thought, "Yeah, tell me about it!"
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If only she knew what she was really communicating with her words. Would she say them?
Let's take it apart, shall we?
IF you are good..... THEN we will do that.
This implies that if for ANY REASON we don't do that, that means that the child is NOT GOOD.
I know, I know. That's not rational, you say. If you studied logic in school, you know that "if" a set of circumstances is met, what comes after "then" should necessarily follow.
However, we aren't talking about college educated adults here. We are talking about children. They listen to what we say. And they BELIEVE US. Research has shown us that the more times a child (a person) is told something about WHO they are ("You'll never amount to anything." or "You will succeed at whatever you do."), the more likely they are to internalize that message and it does become part of their life story.
I wonder how often mothers say those very words to their kids. I wonder what the child concludes if they run late that day or something else causes the "thing" to not happen. Even if the child has been as "good" as they know how to be, they still don't get what they wanted. What does that child learn from that? Do they have the ability to reason their way to an explanation? No, they don't.
When we tell a child of 2-3 years that a certain thing won't happen UNLESS they are good, what they hear is that there are definitely times when they AREN'T GOOD, at least sometimes.
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This is so important because we all want to be good. We want to know that we are OK, that we are valued, and especially that we are accepted and loved by our family of origin. It's a foundation for a life led with confidence, responsiblity and self-assuredness. Don't we want this for our kids? Don't we want them to KNOW they are loved and valued and supported in this life? Of course we do! Therefore, we need to be mindful of the words we use when we communicate with them.
Is it necessary to monitor every word that comes out of your mouth? Um...No, but I would recommend listening very closely to yourself and what you are saying to your kids. Ask yourself how you may have interpreted the same words when you were a small child. Look for physical or facial reactions in your child after speaking with them. When they are of a certain age, you can ask them what they heard you say. Then listen to what they tell you.