Stop Telling Your Kids These 4 Phrases: How Successful Parents Teach Self-discipline


Parents often have conversations with their children that start off well, but then somewhere things go wrong.

A kid who was open to discussion, or at least not hostile, shuts down completely. A little disagreement turns into a big fight. What happened?

As parental experts and authors of “The autonomous child”, we have 65 years of combined research and experience working with children (and we’ve even raised a few of our own). We’ve found that the following phrases – spoken by well-meaning parents – don’t work in teaching self-discipline, and we’ve got a good idea of ​​why:

1. “If you don’t work hard now, you’ll be sorry for your whole life.”

Instilling fear is one of the least effective ways to instill intrinsic motivation in children. In reality, it can be detrimental to children who, whenever they’re reminded of how important it is for them to do better, become more stressed – and sometimes, avoid.

Another reason phrases like this don’t work is because the context is beyond children’s comprehension. Trying to get a seventh grader to stick with swimming because that will look good in college applications, for example, is kind of like saying, “Now that you’re in high school, we need to talk about a 401 (k) plan for you. “

Children are not able to anticipate like adults. This is what makes them children.

What successful parents do / say instead:

  • Encourage them: “You have not mastered [doing X] still, but you can improve yourself. Look how far you’ve gone already! “
  • Help them see the positives: “Yes, [doing X] is difficult. But if you keep training, you’ll have more confidence in your ability to take on future challenges like this and you’ll feel really good. “
  • Don’t talk about school: “I know [X class] was tough, but I love the fact that you work hard in baseball – and I have no doubts that you will be able to work that hard in class if you put in the same effort. “

2. “It’s my job to protect you. “

As children get older and reach middle school or high school, keeping them safe is a job we can never do. We are not with them all the time and we cannot follow their every move.

When children think it’s our job to keep them safe, and not theirs, they are more prone to behaving recklessly, thinking that there is always a safety net when in reality there is. there is none.

This does not mean that you have to silence opinions; There are times when you need to say no and be clear about the risks you don’t feel comfortable taking.

What successful parents do / say instead:

  • Calmly explain your concerns: “I don’t feel comfortable with this, and here’s why …”
  • Allow them to make mistakes. Carefully letting your kids learn a hard lesson on their own, and then talking to them after the fact will give them great insight.
  • Discuss the perceived dangers together: “I have some concerns about [X], but I also imagine you have another idea in mind. Can you tell me how you will handle things though [X] is bad, to make us both feel comfortable? “

3. “I am punishing you because you have to learn that this behavior is unacceptable.”

Applying punishment can help you feel like you are in control, but Studies show Not only does it harm your relationship with your child, it is also an ineffective tool for behavior change.

While this can briefly stop a seizure, it does not inspire positive behavior or teach children what to do. In addition, the more parents threaten, the more children lie and hide issues they may need help with.

What successful parents do / say instead:

  • If they don’t want to hear your opinion, don’t force them. The point is to teach, which only happens when they actually listen. If you communicate respectfully, they will be more likely to come to you at another time: “I felt pretty upset about what just happened and I suspect you can too. Can we talk later about how to get a better result if it happens again? “
  • Speak with them, not with them: “I need you to know that I don’t agree with what you have done, but I really want to understand where you are coming from. “
  • Discuss the consequences in advance and make sure you both agree with them. Be specific, strategic and reasonable. (We have also always wondered why some parents think that “You are punished forever!” Is an appropriate reaction to all their children hurt.)

4. “You are spending too much time on your phone.”

The problem with this claim is that it is not respectful of the way a child inhabit their social world – a world that seems very different from ours.

Social media and games are versions of the note passages and arcade tours that were so defining in our youth, and we wouldn’t have welcomed anyone suggesting that we just take that part of our lives out.

In addition, we want to help children manage their relationship with technology, because we have a pretty strong feeling that it’s getting nowhere.

What successful parents do / say instead:

  • Increase your influence by being interested in what interests them. Learn about the games they play, the people they follow, the shows they watch, the books they read – and participate with them, at least some of the time. Power struggles have no long-term winners.
  • Give them a reason to hang up their phones: “I noticed you haven’t spent time with us since you got home from school. Do you want to go to the library and pick out some new books? “
  • Mentor More Than You Watch: “How long do you still need to finish what you’re doing?” I don’t want to interrupt you [doing X thing], but I also want you to be on your phone in a way that feels balanced. “

Guillaume Stixrud and Ned johnson are the co-authors of “What Do you say? How to speak wwith children to develop motivation, stress tolerance and a happy home. “ William is a clinical neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine. Ned is the founder of PrepMatters and author of “Conquering the SAT: How Parents Can Help Teens Overcome Pressure and Succeed.” William and Ned have 60 years of combined experience with parents and children.

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