5 Things To Be Mindful Of When Talking To Your Little Ones
The early years lay the foundation for the rest of our lives. While 90% brain development occurs by the time a child is 6, this is also a time that moulds other important foundations like self-image, confidence, trust and emotional intelligence. Therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of what is taught to children, their surroundings, and how parents, educators and others interact with them as well.
Here is a list of things to avoid saying to your little ones and what you can say instead.
Every child is unique, and has different ways of doing tasks and learning. Comparison with others (friends, older siblings, peers) can undermine their confidence and make them feel unworthy or frustrated. Instead of saying “(abc) did this better than you”, “why can’t you be more like (xyz)”, if you feel your child can do something better, try saying “I like that you did (task) the best way that you could” and watch how your little one gets better at it every time he/she does the same thing.
If your little one falls down, or starts crying about something, allow them the space to cry and let their feelings out. Instinctually parents feel bad when their little ones cry, but it is necessary for them to feel “not okay” when something bad happens. Immediately asking them not to cry can hamper their foundations for emotional well-being. As a parent, we can help them understand that sometimes things happen that can hurt, and it is okay to be upset - this helps them understand and regulate their emotions in a healthy way - even later on in life.
“Don’t eat too much”, “See who’s becoming a little chubby”, “I am on a diet” - these phrases can create a sense of a negative body image for your little ones. Even if, as a parent, you are on a diet, your little one needs to see that nutrition is good - if you want your little one to be more active, parents can model the same behaviour. Instead of saying “I am on a diet”, you can say “I eat this food because it makes my body feel good”. If you feel your toddler needs to move a little more, you can create a small ‘exercise time’ for everyone. For example “the weather is great today, let’s all go for a walk outside”. Role modelling the behaviour you want your child to have is a great way to inspire them and help them learn.
Helping too quickly
When your little one is doing a new task, whether it’s building a tower, coloring or doing any activity, they are going to fumble or get it wrong the first time, or even the first few times. This is good for them. A little struggle pushes them to try a little harder, and eventually when they do it, it instills confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Their sense of independence also gets strengthened when they accomplish things on their own. As a parent, seeing them struggle may worry or frustrate you, but jumping in too soon and helping your little one out will undermine their own confidence, and may result in them always looking to others for help/answers even later on in life. If you feel like your little one needs some help, guiding questions are the best way to help - “Do you think the big block should be on top, or the small block?” - guiding questions help them analyse the situation and use their own thinking to find a solution.
Gender and Age Specific Rules
“Big girls/ big boys don’t do that” - children (at whatever age) are still understanding the world around them and will always be curious about everything. In case your child does something that you feel is age-inappropriate, a better way would be to explain why you feel what they did wasn’t okay - avoid using their age as a reason.
“This is only for boys/ girls” - we live in a world where gender norms are changing and evolving to be more inclusive. Limiting a child’s interests on the basis of their gender may set limiting expectations and inhibit your little one’s overall social and emotional development, in the later stages of their lives as well.
Just as every child is different, so is every one’s style of parenting. While this is a list of suggestions, each parent ultimately does know what is best for their little ones. The most important thing is to be mindful and gentle when you are addressing your littles ones - what they see on a daily basis is what lays the foundation for their lives.