After reading my Being Mindful Of Your Nice To Nag Ratio post, I heard from K.J. Dell’Antonia at The New York Times Well Family Blog. She wondered, “What do you do when you have to correct a child because it is necessary, as in the case of a special needs or speech issues?” This is a great question! It’s very easy to get into a negative pattern of correcting or nagging too much to the point where our children feel counterwill towards us.
Dell’Antonia went on to post this super article: Are We Helping Our Kids Or Nagging Them? In it, she shares her personal experience where she ends up feelings as though she is sending her, “…unlucky child off to school with the extra burden of never getting anything right.”
I believe this is an important question to ask: Where is the balance between coaching and nagging?
It would be nice to draw a definitive line we could generalize to all children on this issue. Unfortunately this isn’t possible as our kids have vastly different tolerance levels for how much correction they can take and different levels of ability.
What I can generalize are four suggestions to saying your redirection in a way that won’t inadvertently plant the seeds of negative core beliefs in the child’s mind.
The more friendly and gentle your reminder can be delivered, the better. Constantly repeating yourself can be quite frustrating! If we start to use a sharp tone, our child might start to tune us out or feel badly. Think of the word: “NEUTRAL” before you start talking.
Show your child that the reasons for the instructions are not because of a lack of capability or a personality flaw, but more as instruction to grow.
Be very careful to keep personalized words like “you” or “why can’t you” out of your redirection. In the case of the mom whose child is pulling his hair so hard, he is creating bald spots, rather than saying, “Why can’t you stop pulling your hair?!” use language that focuses on what needs to be done. Saying, “Hands down,” with a smile, or simply, “Hands,” will remind this child to stop pulling. Also, “When your hands are off your hair, then it can grow back.” This is an example of the When/ Then parenting technique.
If the child continues to do something like this and is old enough to have a conversation about it, the parent could try, “I see that remembering to not pull your hair is hard. Let’s think of what we can do to remind you to stop.”
In the case of speech correction, perhaps explain to your child that you are helping her mouth to grow so she doesn’t feel like she can’t get anything right. That means saying something like, “I know that saying ‘s’ is hard. I’m going to remind you how to say that letter so your mouth can grow better.” This way the child will view the redirection as a learning point rather than because there is something faulty with her.
Children who are constantly corrected might start to believe they can’t get it right because there is something inherently wrong with them. Use your words to convey this isn’t the case.
Children need two kinds of breaks when they need regular instructions to learn or be safe: a break from hearing you give redirection—to have their parent be “fun mom” or “fun dad,” and a break from you altogether.
Remove your coach or teacher hat and interact with your child in a playful manner. Behaviour often heads south when a child reaches his or her correction tipping point so when you see this coming; think of ways to play your way through it. Let your child lead the activity to give her the feeling of having some power.
A child uses play to resolve conflict, work out things that are bothering her and get all the ya-yas out so provide your child with opportunities to play without you around. Exercise and being outdoors will make that play time that much more valuable.
One of my parenting mantras is, “Connect first. Instruct second.” If you are constantly instructing, then your child’s connection tank needs to be all the way full. Consider how you can interact with your child so your child believes she is connected, loved, important, heard and capable.
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