In the animated comedy "Despicable Me," the child version of Gru creates impressive inventions and projects to try to win his mother's approval. Her reaction is always the same - a grunt. She never acknowledges her son's talents and creations. So Gru constantly aims for bigger and better. He even delves into criminal activity to try to achieve the unattainable bar set by his mother.
When I was a gangly adolescent I had an older brother who taunted my clumsiness. He was a typical teenage boy, probably not very confident, and he belittled me to build up himself. All these years later, when I stumble or drop something, the words, "Clumsy ox," flash across my mind. Now, I know that I'm not a clumsy ox, but for several years I was teased and labeled that way. My brother and I are friends now, but that sweet, complimentary phrase still finds its way into my consciousness whenever I take a tumble.
Gru's mother and my older brother probably didn't realize the damage they were inflicting with their words and behavior. When we belittle, ignore or insult our kids we can't know the repercussions of our actions. For parents, life gets busy and crazy. Sometimes in our anxiety, we inadvertently unleash our stress on our kids.
Maybe your son neglected to take out the overflowing garbage can, yet again. You're tired and your temper flares. You use harsh words or labels that slip out in your anger that you don't really mean. Unfortunately, your son internalizes those labels and they become part of who he thinks he is.
We shouldn't have to walk on eggshells around our kids. But our words to them really do impact their psyche. How, then, can we improve the way we communicate with our kids?
Show an increase of love following discipline
When we react with hysterics at our kids' major mess-ups, we're showing them that we're furious with their mistakes. Maybe your daughter shoplifted a shirt. In turn, you harshly scold her actions. Sure, she deserved your sharp words and the discipline and consequences. But now, it's important to show her that you still love her. You believe in her. As you tell her this, she'll realize that you're willing to trust her again, and though you're not proud of what she did, she's still your beloved daughter.
Bite back the regrettable words
It can be easy to shout out insulting words in the heat of the moment. But an immediate, "Wait, I didn't mean to call you that," will soften and defuse the situation. Correcting yourself shows humility and restraint. It sets a good example to your child when you can admit that you've made a mistake and been too harsh or gone too far.
Label your kids' actions, but not them
Stashing snacks under the bed to invite insects and other creatures into the bedroom isn't brilliant. Riding a bike down a hill and jumping into a pond is foolhardy. Accepting a dare to use a drug is dangerous. All of these actions are stupid, and it's ok and necessary to teach your kids that. However, your child is not stupid.
It's a part of kids make up to take risks and attempt new things. As parents, we can only teach our kids what behavior is unacceptable and discipline them as needed. But we need to make it clear to our child that while the action is stupid, he or she is not.
We should always show our kids that we while we don't like the mistakes they make, we sure love them. Using care with the way we reprimand them and correcting our harsh language when it gets too personal takes restraint and humility. If we want our kids' inner voices to be encouraging and loving, our words to them should be the same way.