‘The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice’
~ Peggy O’Mara
Me: We discussed the solutions to all of these problems ten minutes ago and you got each one right. So why are there so many errors in your assignment sheet?
10-year-old student: I can’t help it, Ma’am. This always happens with me. I just have to make lots of mistakes?
Me: And why does a smart, intelligent child like you ‘have to’ make mistakes?
Student: Who told you I’m smart and intelligent?
Me: I can see that for myself.
Student: But I’m not! Everyone at home and all the teachers in school tells me I’m stupid as I keep getting things wrong!
As an instructor, I often come across kids who have enormous potential, but will just not make the effort to utilize it for good results. These are highly intelligent kids, many of them with behavior issues and disruptive, attention-seeking behavior, and some repressed, fearful ones with confidence problems. As I delve into the reasons behind these trends, both as an avid student of human behaviour and as their preceptor, I generally come across one or more of the same issues under the bravado or the seeming indifference: self-doubt, abandonment, suppression, emotional blackmail, blame throwing!
It’s not that such kids are unloved or neglected—in fact, most kids from even reasonably well-off homes these days are highly indulged and pampered. However, what most adults don’t realize is that giving your kids the right kind of influences and environment is far more crucial to their mental and emotional development than material gratification.
There are whole theses and therapies based on the power of the subconscious mind. Ad campaigns, cult scenarios, performance indoctrination and political propaganda—all work on the well-known effects of suggestion on the human mind. So just imagine how deeply kids, who are as readily moulded as wet clay, would be affected by what they hear from the adults around them!
Unfortunately, even the most loving adults can let their anger, anxiety, exasperation or irritation get the better of them and say things to a child that can scar him emotionally for life. Here, from my experience, are some acid balls one should never, ever subject kids to:
1. You’ll Never Amount To Anything…
When a child hears this from adults, she takes it literally, and starts believing that it is not possible for her to do anything well. And that is when subconscious self-sabotage starts. Incredible as it may sound, studies in psychology tell us that in nine cases out of ten such statements become a negative affirmation for kids and erode their self-esteem. Such a child is likely to mess up anything she tries to do—even the simplest of tasks!
2. I Wish You Were More Like…
Comparisons are corrosive to self-confidence. Just imagine if your kid always compared you unfavourably with his friends’ parents—your sense of hurt and self-doubt would be nothing compared to the emotional havoc kids experience when they feel belittled and end up thinking that their parents prefer others’ kids to them. This feeling of abandonment can trigger attention-seeking negative behavior, or else, resentment, fear and repressions that dog them into adult life.
3. If You Want Me To Love You…
Unconditional love is a parenting ‘must do’. When you set conditions of ‘deserving’ to your love for your child, you might be acting out of a misguided sense of ‘motivating’ him towards better outcomes, but you are actually damaging his sense of emotional security. He might actually perform better, be a more conformable kid and exert himself continually to meet all your expectations and ‘earn’ your love, but on the inside he will be emotionally dysfunctional, always scared of putting a foot wrong and ‘losing; your love. You really don’t want your kid living in constant terror, do you?
4. Stop Bothering Me…
Parents have a zillion things to deal with, besides their kids, and kids usually don’t understand this. A harassed parent, at the end of her patience, might well snap out ‘Stop bothering me’ to a persistent child—parents are human too, you know! The trouble, however, is that most kids take this simple expression of irritation (repeated over time) to mean that their parents don’t want to be bothered with them! So, the next time your kid pesters you when you are busy, try to hold on to your temper and patience, and tell them firmly, “I would love to listen to you with the whole of my attention. So, please wait till I’ve finished what I am doing.”
5. It’s Your Fault…
Kids mess up all the time—as do adults! And sometimes their mistakes can have grave consequences—missing a deadline, breaking something expensive, even irreplaceable, or spoiling something irrevocably, but blame throwing won’t mend matters. If you think your child did it intentionally (which is also quite possible) you need to get counseling to find out why he did it, and how to address the issue. If it was unintentional, blaming him will kill his confidence and he will be too scared to try anything again. Far better, to control yourself and remedy the situation as best as possible.
I remember my two-year-old sister breaking Dad’s turntable as she sneaked into the music deck and tried to play her favourite record (the adults being busy at the moment and not paying attention). Dad refused to let anyone scold her, got the turntable repaired—at enormous cost—and taught all the kids the correct way to operate it, even making the two-year-old culprit do it carefully, which did wonders for her confidence, besides teaching her to be meticulous!
6. Stop Dreaming…
All adults know that dreams seldom come true. What we forget is that it is these dreams which teach us to look forward and achieve. Your kids’ dreams may not be what you want for them. They may seem like castles in the air to you—distracting them from reality and what you feel should be their goals. But don’t take away their hope. Try instead, to understand their dreams, and if they really are impractical (as they often are), try a gentler approach. Let them pursue them, on the condition that they don’t neglect the practical side of life. Help them to strike a balance, and you never know—they may actually realize those ‘impractical’ dreams some day! No one would be prouder than you if they did!
7. Stop Being Such A Baby…
Inside every one of us there is a little child who wants to be loved and cosseted, and who gets hurt easily. We learn to mask it as we grow older. However, training kids to be stoic about their hurts at too early an age results in repressions, that they carry inside them to the end of their lives. Let him express his hurt in a private space and not bottle it up inside. Be there for him and soothe him. Sensitive children usually grow into sensitized adults, which is what the world needs most, given its present state of chaos.
Remember, you never know when your unguarded words might fall upon the fertile soil of a kid’s vulnerable psyche and bear poison fruit!