“Mom, I’m freezing, it’s so cold outside”
“Well, if you had worn your coat like I told you to, you wouldn’t be cold, would you?”
Does this sound familiar? Many of us have had a conversation similar to this at one point or another. What do you think the child’s response will be? Do you think the child is any more likely to wear their coat in the future?
Many parents find themselves in situations like this, telling their kids what to do more than they’d like. Many parents also feel like their kids don’t listen, but why? Kids are naturally curious, which contributes to the development of their minds. So they often desire to discover how things work and what will happen if they do something their own way. The question is, how do we help their minds to think through their experiences?
One strategy parents may use are short phrases that intensify an unpleasant or unsuccessful experience. These “zingers” are an attempt to drive home a message you want your child to understand, now and for the future. Zingers might also be used to add a “sting” to an already difficult lesson your child learned on their own. The most common phrase is, “I told you so!”
What happens when we use zingers? While we may desire for our kids to listen to our words of wisdom, more often, zingers do not produce the outcome we really desire. In fact, zingers tend to be interpreted as being insensitive and invalidating of a child’s experiences and feelings. If a child chose not to wear a coat in the winter weather, the natural consequence of being cold is sufficient. Using a zinger like, “That’s what you get for not putting on your coat,” may lead a child to direct their anger towards the parent instead of focusing on what the experience is teaching them.
Approaching the conversation as though one day we will not be present to tell our children what to do may be a better alternative. To help them make meaning of the experience, we can provide thinking questions to allow them to process their decision and its results. Replacing zingers with questions and conversations in this way can make a significant difference in our children’s growth, our relationships with them, and our influence. In helping kids walk through the thought process of the consequences they are experiencing, they really are more likely to make different decisions in the future. Also, by replacing zingers with productive communication and empathy we can invest in our relationships with our children. These outcomes also make it more likely that our children will look to us for help processing other things in the future.
Some examples of alternative responses to help replace zingers may be;
As parents, we have the great opportunity to model a thoughtful and deliberate reaction to circumstances. Now, when the next “coat wearing” incident occurs, we will be able to approach the issue with empathy, instead of anger. We can allow our children time to process their experience and own their decision so that they may make a wiser choice the next time.