If you’re a teacher or principal reading this, notice I DIDN”T say “Students” in the title. Why? Are you kidding me? Really? You have to ask? There is a touch of sarcasm here but I’m choosing my words carefully for this blog and I’m basing the content on my own experiences as a parent AND, a parent who sent their children to the same schools in which I worked. So…haters beware!
My Top 6 Acceptable 21st Century Phrases for Children to Hear.
I really shouldn’t have to expand on this but…when have I ever shied away from sharing my opinion? The first word most children utter when learning to speak is either “Mom” or “Dad”. The first word parents need to learn when their newborns enter this world is “No”. It won’t scar them, disable them, confuse them, or otherwise deplete their self-esteem. This word simply means what it means “No”. No need to rationalize or justify your response to those young ears. They will figure out why on their own.
5. “I think you can do better.”
This phrase, when employed with all the cunning wisdom, life experience and insight bestowed upon you as an adult, can and will do MORE to build your child’s self-esteem than any other fake blue-ribbon, participation award, or silly gold star you can give them. It will take more time and there will be tears, but it will stick. I promise.
4. “Not now. You will have to wait.”
Delayed gratification is almost non-existent in our world today. Especially among our children. Waiting for something or, better yet, earning something through their own hard work is a must learn life skill. Our children did not get their first cell phone until they turned 16. At that time we were the worst parents ever. Today…we’re probably still the worst parents ever but we still get birthday cards!
3. “I’m quite sure not EVERYBODY is doing it.”
“But everybody is doing it” is the most over-used phrase by kids everywhere. It’s sole purpose is to shame parents into caving in to their children’s whims. Middle school-aged students use this plea as a means to fit in with their peers in and outside of school. Their motive? To belong to something. This perhaps is one of the most dangerous attributes, in my opinion, hard-wired into our children. A sense of belonging is a powerful need middle school-aged children strive endlessly to fulfill. Unfortunately, most will do anything to fulfill this need. How we as parents and educators respond to this plea is one of the single most important moments we collectively share in raising happy, healthy young people.
2. “You lost.”
Life has winners and losers. The sooner they learn that they won’t always be winners and their best life lessons will be those learned through disappointment and heartache, the better. Pick your poison folks. “You lost” or “You didn’t win”, sends a clear indisputable message that they came up short. Losing has nothing to do with being deficient little beings; they just didn’t win. They came up short. That’s life. You don’t have to have children in athletics in order to teach this tough lesson. Winning and losing appears in every facet of our lives. How we, as adults in their lives, choose to coach up our kids in these moments is as important for them as it is for us.
1. “If you think it’s the right thing to do then go ahead.”
And now for my all time favorite! Why? Because I coined this one myself. My son Christian is 22 years old and still a fireworks junkie. Back in 7th grade he would pester me endlessly to let him shoot off bottle rockets in our backyard. In Iowa this is illegal. To a 7th grade boy, that law is merely a suggestion. After one particular exhausting session about this request, I pulled out this little gem from my evolving parent brain. Can’t find this one in any parenting books. This was all me. Here is the conversation in a nutshell.
Christian: Can I shoot off bottle rockets in the back yard?
Me: If you think it’s the right thing to do then go ahead, but you know it’s illegal right?
Christian: Yeah, but I won’t get caught.
Me: OK. If you think it’s the right thing to do go ahead.
Me: Sure. But if you get caught you know there will likely be consequences from the police.
Me: If you think it’s the right thing to do and can live with the consequences then go ahead.
Christian: GREAT! (He then dashes out the door only to stop and turn around with a puzzled look.)
Christian: So I really can’t right?
Me: If you think it’s… (Christian interrupts.)
Christian: Whatever. (He then went fishing instead.)
Those are, in a nutshell, the six things that I believe are perfectly acceptable to say to our children. In a world gone mad with “self-esteem” building, learning the tough lessons associated with these six phrases will do more good than harm. If you’re a teacher or principal, tread lightly when considering the use of these phrases with your students. These aren’t universally adopted parenting strategies practiced or revered by everyone. But for Jill and I, they served us pretty darn well. Right kids?
It’s better in the middle!