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  • Writer's pictureGemma

The Harm We Speak to Children

How you speak to children influences them more than you think. Loving a child means that you want to protect them, keep them away from as much danger and harm as you possibly can and based on the fact that children are typically raised on a reward and punishment bases i.e. behave how I want you to and you will get this reward, but misbehave and you will lose this thing that you value, adults tend to make big statements to make sure that the child understands how serious they are about what they say. There is nothing wrong with that but you must also remember that if the end goal is to keep them safe from harm, you probably want them to come to you if they need help or to inform you if they have been hurt by someone or something too, and for that, you need trust. They need to trust you.

If you choose statements like "If I ever find out that you have done X,Y, Z you will be in a world of pain" or "If you do that again I will phone the naughty boys school and they will come and take you away" or "If you ever come home in a police car you will be kicked out of this house" or "If you get yourself pregnant you better find yourself somewhere else to live" etc. These words stick as they are driven by fear. A child doesn't know that you wont actually make them homeless whilst pregnant or lock them away with a bunch of naughty boys who might beat them up and bully them for fun. And who knows what a child is imagining when you say "you will be in a world of pain" But what they will 100% experience is pure fear and loneliness if they find themselves in any of the situations that you have made these threats about. A child with theses feelings will worry themselves sick about you finding out and following through with the threat, therefore they may place themselves in more harm or danger to either cover it up, blame it on someone else or pretend that it didn't happen to them in an attempt to try and make it go away.

Who's advice will they be getting if they cannot come to you? Probably the advice of another young unexperienced mind who also has been raised and directed by their own brand of fear. Is that what you want for your child? Children are much younger than you, so cant possibly see or understand the bigger picture like you do now with all your knowledge gained from years of living, experiencing and learning.

If you think that I am being dramatic I would like for you to now think about your own life but not as a child, as the person whom you are today reading this article. How do you feel when you make a mistake at work - does fear kick in about getting into trouble and who do you speak to about that first - your boss, your work friend or maybe you phone your partner as soon as you get on your break? How much do you worry when you have accidentally let something slip out your mouth that is a secret you are keeping for yourself or someone else? Have you ever been involved in someone else's drama just by being associated with them or being present at the time and yet you didn't actually do anything wrong or wanted to be involved in it yourself? Maybe someone tells a lie and uses you as their alibi without your consent - how do you feel when that trouble knocks on your door?.

I know people in their 30's and 40's who are too scared to let their parents know that they smoke and people who turn down family holidays because their mum or dad will see that they have a tattoo or a scar. I know troubled, antisocial and extremely unwell people who have spent a lifetime suffering because they had to alone handle a terrible thing that happened to them when they were young because they were too scared about how upset it would make their mum or how angry it would make their dad.

Consequences are good to know as they do help steer your ship but so does trust, love, respect and support. If you communicate better with children you can build a relationship where they come to you when they are scared or in trouble especially if you are the primary care giver of that child because you already have the added benefit that they love you and want to make you happy. If you feel that using the words "there will be consequences if you do X,Y,Z" isn't strong enough because the child will ignore you, then maybe that is because you have not done a great job previously of following through on your discipline. We have all witnessed adults empty threats whilst eating out or shopping where a man or woman says "I will give you to the count of 3, 1....., 2..........., 3 don't make me count again - 1, 2, 2 and a half, 3 - are you listening to me? If you don't stop soon there will be trouble 1, 2, are you going to make me finish counting? etc, etc". In this type of instance its not the child's fault its the adults but that doesn't mean that you cant change your ways, you only need to watch 1 episode of Super Nanny to see that adults can improve and restore respect the second that they make the decision that they want to.

A cool tip for starting a difficult conversation with your child / young adult is to sit on the floor with them sitting back to back. By sitting back to back you take away the pressure of starring judgemental eyes and unconscious facial expressions that could bring the conversation to a close or steer it in a negative direction. Express at the beginning that this is a safe place to talk freely and that between the two of you, you will try to find a solution for what has happened and let them know that you are willing to do this again at their request anytime that they want to. This can also be used between adults as sometimes you want to speak to your partner / sister / brother or best friend but their rolling eyes or angry face can be enough to put you off from having the conversation.


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