Tips &

Tips &

Do we have a culture of criticising children?

July 2022
Janthea Brigden
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A walk in my local park recently highlighted the collective carelessness adults have around their use of language and phrasing. Often the language we use can unintentionally demoralise and put children down. It seemed as though every interaction was unwittingly negative!

Child:  (delighted to have scaled a climbing wall) “Did you see? I did it!”

Adult: “Your coat’s getting filthy! I haven’t time to clean it again before school!”

Child:  (Slightly embarrassed about slipping off a scooter) Oops!

Adult:   “Well that was a stupid thing to do wasn’t it?!”

Child walking towards me and my elderly mum:

Adult:  “Keep out of the way!”

Child  “I’m nowhere near!”  (He really wasn’t!)

Adult:  (To me)  “I’m sorry! Never looks where he’s going!” 

Did you know that children receive 432 negative comments or words a day and only around 32 positive ones?

I’ve been encouraging Nipperbout staff to use positive phrasing and avoid the words “no” and “don’t” in my settings since I started my business in 1993, but I hadn’t realised that the barrage of negativity children receive daily was so high!

Having heard these figures quite recently, my critical antennae are now buzzing and I’m much more aware of when I’m sounding negative myself.

Much of the time, it seems to spring from an anxiety that we, as parents, are doing a ‘good job’. That we are seen to be raising our children to be decent citizens, that we are caring for them appropriately and keeping them safe and clean and that if others judge them as not being, it certainly isn’t our fault! 

Most of us love our children fiercely and want them to grow up happy and healthy both physically and mentally.  One way to do this is to ‘mind our language’ and think about how we phrase things.

5 ways to do things differently

1. Replace negatives with positives

 The brain finds it hard to process a negative, so you are actually more likely to get a positive action with positive instruction.  Rephrasing is hard at first but becomes easier with support and working out positive ways of saying things together as a family can be fun.

For example: Instead of saying “Don’t shout!”, you could say “Talk quietly?”

2. Think about what action you want to happen

When giving instruction, think about what you DO want to see happening, rather than what you don’t. ’Don’t' messages are hugely damaging to self-esteem, even when well-meant.

 For example:  “Don’t give up” or  “Don’t forget” can imply that you believe the person will give up or will forget.

 "It feels hard right now” is more acknowledging or  “let’s see what happens when...” shows you care and are willing to help.

 ”Remember” means the same as “don’t forget” but feels helpful rather than condemning.

3. Try to ignore judgement from others

Remind yourself that people in the park or café are strangers you may never see again, but the child in front of you is the person you most want to build a loving, lasting relationship with.

4. Acknowledge all emotions

Try to understand and acknowledge how your child may be feeling and support them in feeling safe to name and express their feelings. If you accept ‘fine’ and ‘okay’ when they are little, then expect to hear these continually, especially throughout teenage years.

5. Observe and listen

Expression and body language make up 55 percent of communication so learn to observe your child and listen to their feelings right from the day they are born.

The way we speak to our children from their early years can have a huge impact on their self-confidence, sense of self and our relationship with them. Of course, no one is perfect and as parents we make mistakes, but just taking time to consider the language we use on a daily basis can make a big difference to our children, now, and in the future.