Over the last 23 months, since my son was born, I have had an increasing fear of public places. What I’m fearing most are other parents. I’m finding it not so much fun at parks, playgrounds or any mommy and me type class because of some parents I’m encountering. I notice that these parents are constantly parenting. They never step back and just let their kids figure out how to play. On top of the helicoptering, the language they use with their children is really starting to get to me. Some of the words and phrases I hear all the time are:
- Don’t do that.
- Be Careful
- If you don’t stop you are going into a TIME OUT.
- You’re going to hurt yourself.
- Do you want to go on the slide?
- Stop running.
- Keep your voice down.
- Say Thank You.
- Say Please.
- Say you’re Sorry.
- GOOD JOB.
And so many more…
These are all phrases my husband and I do not use with our son. We believe that each and every one is basically meaningless. I’ll explain.
Manners: We believe that manners should come from an authentic place. They should mean something. My husband and I model this for our child in hopes that he will see that when we say ‘thank you’ we are actually grateful.
Sharing: We don’t tell our child to share. We let him resolve his own conflicts. If I was starving and eating a sandwich and someone grabbed it out of my hands, I would be upset too. Why can’t we let our child decide when he’s finished playing with something? Just because someone else wants to use it? By not making him share our son seems to be frequently giving things away to other children.
Time Outs: A temporary fix that teaches children absolutely nothing about their actions. And shames them. According to the book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, the Time Out concept initially comes from a study on rats in the 1950s that was called ‘Time Out from Positive Reinforcement’. What positive reinforcement are you giving a time out from? Love, attention, connection? That seems awfully dangerous.
Options for playing: They’re children, this is what they do best. They don’t need us showing and taking them around a playground- and constantly introducing ways they should play. This essentially cuts them off from their imagination and natural curiosity.
Saying ‘Sorry’: We never tell our child to say sorry. We want him to be able to cultivate real empathy for others. When a child is forced to say sorry, it is completely meaningless for them. For example, if our son hurts someone (which has rarely happened) we say to him, “Do you see how he feels when you stepped on his toe?”
Good Job: When I hear this used, which is all the time, I cringe. A child can be doing the most mundane of things and not have a care in the world about it, and a parent will use ‘good job’. This sets the child up to feel like a failure. I say this because if a parent isn’t saying good job to EVERYTHING, the child will internalize that when the parent isn’t saying it, they must not be proud or love them. This is seriously setting your child up for some issues around love and acceptance. Just think about it. There are ways to acknowledge what our children are accomplishing without using ‘good job’. The English language is loaded with words! We like to mirror what we see for our child, that way he gets acknowledgment- but we only do it when we see that he’s looking for it. For example, if he’s jumping on one foot and he gets really excited and looks at us for acknowledgment, we say something like, “Look, you’re jumping!” We mirror rather than praise.
We call ourselves ‘Idle Parents’. We read the book, Idle Parents, by Tom Hodgkinson before our first son was born and we both exclaimed, “Yes! That’s us! We strongly believe in letting a child have a real childhood. If our son is disgustingly filthy by the end of the day we know that we haven’t interfered too much in his play. We stand back and let him be, while keeping him safe and giving him TONS of love. The language we use with our child is deliberate and we always think about how our words/actions could affect him later in life. We are not perfect parents by any means. However, we strongly feel that by consciously parenting, and not reacting on automatic, our children have more of an opportunity to be and do who/whatever they are supposed to be in this life, and feel unconditionally loved and develop real empathy for others. That’s our goal.