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For most children, especially toddlers, parents' words are as good as universal truth. Although many times parents may not realise this fact during an ongoing and unbearable tantrum of their child, she does register every word that the parent utters; intentionally and unintentionally. Not only those addressed to the child but also those that are spoken around her. The power of parents' words over their children is often underestimated. That said, I make conscious efforts not to say, in fact even mean the following things in front of my daughters :
1. "That person is 'ugly/ mean/ strange..."
As human beings, we never miss an opportunity to attach adjectives to people, known and unknown alike. But little do we realise that such words become lens through which our children see those people or those kind of people. In the long run, it might lead to their unwillingness or failure to analyse why 'good' people may behave 'badly' in some situations. They might develop bias towards those around them, sometimes even close family members as a result of our opinions. As difficult as it may sound, hubby and I make it a point not to use any 'bad labels' while talking about other people when kids are around. In fact, better to not discuss people at all; with them and around them.
2. "You cannot do this.."
All of us have limitations, of course. Physical, mental or emotional. Parents are the best identifiers of those limtations in children and they are an obvious cause of concern for them. No problem so far because limitations can be overcome. But not when we make it a point to constantly remind little ones about it out of our own worries and fears. I try my best to replace 'You cannot do.. ' with 'Lets try it this way..' when I intend caution or 'The other thing also looks interesting' when I think the act is out of reach for the time being.
3. "Your sister/brother is better than you in.."
Many times the cause of sibling rivalry lies with the way parents treat their children when they are with their siblings and when they are on their own. Quoting examples of a sister or brother to inculcate good habits in a child is an inevitable and also effective way. But going overboard with it might lead to issues amongst them. I ask my younger one to brush her teeth or finish her vegetables like big sister does. But I refrain from commenting on their individual traits and preferences that are a part of their different personalities to avoid any kind of comparison on that front.
4. "Would you do it for me when I am old like Grandma.."
Our children are not to be brought up as caregivers for old age. I simply do not agree with those who build expectations about children being responsible for their parents at some point in life. If it has been done right all along, they would be around whenever parents need them without any favours asked or given. To mentally burden them, at any age, is just not my way.
5. "I want you to become a doctor/ engineer/ dancer/ puppet!"
Bringing a person into the world certainly bestows on us the responsibility of making him or her self sufficient. But in no way does it grant us the authority to dictate what meaning do they desire to add to their lives. Of course, parents' mentorship is indispensible. Nonetheless, it should not be an imposition.
Most of the times children are like their favourite toy, moulding clay. Every word we speak to them shapes them in a different manner altogethet. Moreover, children are like under cover agents who always overhear adults even though they pretend they do not. Hence, every word we speak around them, too, has influences we do not even realise. I believe a very big challenge that appears before every person after becoming a parent is to mind his or her words because someone in the house is always listening!