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Evaluating How We Talk to Our Children

Kids @ Oostende by Pieter Hesz from flickr.com
Laura Kuehn, LCSW

I was recently at the beach and noticed something:  three little kids and their moms were playing in the water and in the sand. Without knowing them at all, I could instantly tell which kid belonged to which mom. And it wasn’t because the children were calling out “Mom!!” over and over again. It was by how the moms talked to their own child versus a friend’s child.

If their kid got too close to the water they said: “What do you think you are doing??!!! Do you want to drown? Get over here!” If the friend’s child got too close, they said: “That’s far enough Brenda. You have to wait for a grown up to go in.”

Wow. Same request, different kid. Then I heard myself talking to a friend’s kid with patience and understanding about things that make me snap at my own. Why do we do this? After some reflection, here are some thoughts:

Familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe we are curt with our own kids because they are so familiar. We take so many more liberties with people who love us unconditionally. We take that love for granted and we let our raw emotions come flooding out with no gate keeper. Maybe on some level we figure:  why bother? After all we are family.

There is a lot of history there. Or maybe it is because we have frustrations that have built up over time and now they spill over into our interactions in the present. A conflict-filled car ride to the beach can quickly re-surface in the face of disobedience to parental direction.

We are more invested in our kids. When you put a lot of time into something you want to see your work pay off. When our children disobey, it hits a sore spot. It can make us feel like we have failed – and we react strongly. We don’t have that same level of investment in other people’s children.

We feel embarrassed. This is likely related to the previous point. Sometimes our kids’ behavior embarrasses us. We see it as a reflection on our parenting so we respond out of this underlying feeling of embarrassment. We don’t have that same visceral reaction to friends’ children.

So that covers some possible “why’s” behind this, but what we really want to know is,

What can we do about it?

1. Pay attention to your feelings. Self-reflection comes easier to people who are naturally more introspective. But even if you are not this way, you can still take the time to examine your feelings – you might just have to make a more conscious effort to do so. Identify any hidden feelings behind those biting words and examine the source.

2. Address any unresolved issues. Think about any unresolved hurts you may be dragging around with regards to that child. Think about any un-repented sins in your own heart.  Take your hurts to God in prayer and ask that He would heal any hurts and forgive any mistakes. Then, if necessary, go make amends with your child.

3. Don’t take your family for granted. “Treat others the way you would like to be treated” applies in the home as much as out. Do you treat your children the way you would want to be treated? Do you talk to them in a way that you would want to be addressed? These are hard questions to ask and the answers can be painful. Try to save your best for your family – not just your friends. Ask for someone to hold you accountable if this is an area where you struggle.

4. Respect your kids. Here are some simple guidelines for respecting your children:

  • See them as unique
  • Accept their differences
  • Value their opinions
  • Hear them out

After all, kids are people too.

For more information on how you can deepen your relationship with your kids, click here.

[Photo credit:  visitoostende from flickr.com]

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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