How parents talk can hinder child development

The way parents communicate with their children may hinder their kids from developing healthy self-esteem, emotions and behavior, according to a child behavior author.

“The problem is that at its core, this way of speaking is all about control. We use it to tell our kids what we want them to say (‘Say sorry!’)…what we want them to do (‘Behave yourself!’); and what will happen if they don’t (‘Do you want a timeout?’),” said Jennifer Lehr, author of Parentspeak, in a Jan. 7 Wall Street Journal column.

Parentspeak is about compliance — and that often keeps us from understanding the feelings, motivations, thoughts and behavior of our children,” Lehr adds. “Rather than teaching them to communicate and problem-solve, we are essentially teaching them to obey.”

According to Lehr, complimenting and praising children into compliance may not be an effective tool to teach children either.

“Praising a child into wearing a raincoat that she doesn’t want to wear seems innocuous enough. But played out time and again, these moments teach a child that how others feel is more important than how she feels.

“As psychologists like to point out, children who learn to defer to preferences of grown-ups risk losing touch with their own.”

Lehr encourages parents to talk to their children and ask for feedback. “We could try instead to ask our children why they don’t want to do something and explain why it’s important to us.

“Perhaps Georgia was hot from playing and knew that she’d feel uncomfortable in the jacket. Maybe Paula was headed to the market and was afraid that Georgia would get too damp and cold.

“Once everyone’s reasons are on the table, we can solve a problem together. That is a skill that will serve children better than blind obedience,” Lehr concludes.

—John Lam

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