I sit down in my parenting course, pick up the book and thumb through it. A section titled “The Declaration of Imperfection” catches my attention. As I begin to read, tears stream down my checks and a flood of relief washes over me — “Damara, it’s OK to be imperfect.”
My parents never meant any harm by calling me a “perfect little angel.” They meant it as a compliment. But after this eye-opening experience, I realized how emotionally damaging it is for parents to label their children.
Most parents do not mean to cause emotional harm to their children; however, you may be causing harm without even knowing it. Here are five things to avoid that can hurt your children:
Labeling your children
All my life, I’ve tried to live up to that label of “perfect little angel.” Because of this label, I struggled with facing my mistakes because “perfect little angles” don’t make mistakes (or at least that’s what I thought). I became a perfectionist who quickly felt impatient with myself and others.
Labeling children actually causes discouragement which is the opposite of a parent’s good intention. Labels are limiting. Some common labels are “the athlete, the responsible one or the musician.” Instead of labeling your children, describe their efforts and internal qualities.
Comparing your children to each other
Parents may think comparing their children to each other motivates their kids — on the contrary, when you compare children to each other, the sibling relationship is hurt and resentment grows instead.
One child feels superior while the other feels like a loser. Comparison pits siblings against each other, increasing bad feelings and sibling contention. Comparing hurts the sibling relationship and teaches children from a young age to compare themselves to others. Instead of comparing, describe individual efforts with no reference to your other children.
Saying, “You disappoint me”
When your children do not perform well in school or behave poorly, parents may be tempted to say, “You disappoint me.” Some parents think this statement makes children want to improve. Children are often already disappointed in themselves and this statement only adds negative pressure. It is emotionally damaging and discouraging to children. If you feel disappointed in your children’s work or behavior, ask them, “What can you do to improve?”
Some parents think giving their children constructive criticism is part of the parent “job description.” They think it helps their children improve.
Constructive criticism tears children down. It does not build them up or motivate them. It causes discouragement. When children make mistakes or do not complete tasks, instead of giving constructive criticism, ask your children, “What can you do to make amends? How can you fix this? What can you do to improve?” Children feel motivated to learn when asked self-improving questions.
Taking your frustration out on your children
A man comes home from a bad day at work and blows up at his wife. Then the wife yells at their child, who promptly turns around and kicks the dog.
Because children are the smallest and youngest in the home, parents may take their feelings of frustration out on their children. If you feel frustrated about something or someone in your life, take a time-out and cool off so you don’t take your frustrations out on your children.
Most parents do not intend to cause emotional harm. When parents take a few seconds to think about what is going on and put themselves in their children’s shoes, they can avoid some of these pitfalls. Give unconditional love and encouragement to your children every day.