Teagan says: I often am told by Gary, my husband of five years, that I speak negatively to people. Now Gary is concerned that I do so with our 4- and 2-year-old daughters.
In retrospect, when I look back to my childhood, I do see how negatively my mom spoke to me. She was very well meaning and loving in her own way, but she was verbally negative a lot of the time. I suppose I am just becoming the parent that I saw my mom being. I really do not realize negativity unless Gary points it out.
Mom used to regularly refer to me as an “eejit,” which I learned in my young adulthood was a common Irish slang word for idiot. Mom often told me how silly, foolish, unintelligent I was. She openly and clearly showed how often I annoyed her. That was how I was raised, and I can see that, at times, I replicate that in my interactions with our girls.
Gary says: At work I notice how a lot of people always focus on the negative or put people down rather than try to be positive and bring others up. Teagan is a lot like that. From our beginning, I have pointed out times when she can be curt and not so accommodating when she speaks to people. Now I notice our little daughters recoil or quietly walk away sad when Teagan verbally puts them down. It hurts me to see them get sad, or sometimes angry, when they are called names or when Teagan’s frustrations are taken out on them.
I love Teagan and want to improve this situation. I have often told her about her negative talk, and to date nothing is changing this pattern of behavior.
Maybe I should intervene when it happens, but I don’t want to be putting my wife down in front of the girls. When I wait to tell Teagan privately about her negativity, she promises to not do that again, but it is like she is so automatic with her cutting remarks that it seems this behavior will never change!
What should they do?
Dealing with belittling talk by a parent, or someone else, can be a frustrating process, but it is necessary to handle it in an appropriate way.
Communicating effectively with our children takes time and energy. We need to become aware of our own feelings and instinctive responses, and slow down enough to be able to choose a more thoughtful way.
Having Teagan begin to realize she has a problem is the first step toward change. Justin Coulson has written an article “Watch Your Words” on the Institute for Family Studies website that addresses this issue. When parents are agitated or frustrated, they can tend to speak harshly to their children. But it is not OK to go off the rails, swear, call names and apologize later.
Whatever direction your words lead, your mind and body will follow. Language is powerful. Our words create our world.
Cutting down children verbally can truly have a negative effect because the children grow up believing they are stupid, ugly, silly or a brat. Children that exhibit these traits can often be a target for bullying by other children.
It is also possible that they will grow up believing they are kind, helpful, caring or generous when that is verbalized to them.
Learning how to be more positive in Teagan’s daily verbal interactions will not be a quick fix, but it is imperative in order that her little girls can grow up to see their own uniqueness and good qualities rather than their imperfections.
Perhaps Gary and Teagan can find a positive parenting course to attend together. Also, Gary could write down negative expressions often used by Teagan. She could become more aware of these negative statements or words and practice replacing them with more positive ways to express what she is thinking.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10).
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