MomsGetReal Contributor Katie Bugbee
Believe it or not, in our attempt to do our jobs as parents, we often say things to our kids that we probably shouldn’t. And even though we have nothing but the best intentions, our words are often not received as intended by our little people with their developing brains and personalities.
That being said, here’s one of the biggest parenting advice faux pas we can find ourselves committing (and some alternative tactics to try instead):”It’s Gonna Be All Right.”
When “Frosty” the white goldfish died and your son sobbed at the loss of his “best friend,” of course you wanted to just hug him and comfort his sorrow with the promise that everything would be okay. But that promise can actually do more harm than good.
Clearly, life is not a fairy tale. And things don’t always end with “Happily Ever After.” So it’s important for kids to know that bad things can happen. But it’s equally necessary for them to be able to express their feelings, without feeling brushed off. And when you think about it, telling them it’ll all be okay does seem like you’re just trying to get them to stop crying and worrying.
Bad grades, bullies, awkward skin and teenage breakups – and dead goldfish — are inevitable. And when we tell our kids things like “It’s gonna be all right,” we not only completely invalidate their legitimate feelings of concern on the matter, but we also reinforce a delusional outlook on life.
“But wait,” you say, “He’s too young to deal with stress and I don’t want him to worry.”
That’s true: we don’t want to freak our kids out. At the same time, we do want to empower them and help them recognize the strength they do have to change things that aren’t going their way and that are also within their control to at least attempt to alter the outcome.
Here’s what you should do the next time your child is upset:
- Acknowledge their feelings
- Validate their right to feel however they are feeling about the situation
- Ask if they can think of anything they could have done differently
- Help them identify if there are ways to salvage the current situation
- Brainstorm proactive steps they can take to avoid the same result in the future
- Commit to helping them in whatever way you can to help them achieve their new goals or aims
This way, you are teaching them to:
- Identify, trust and listen to their instincts
- Think about the big picture as opposed to the immediate implications of their actions only
- Problem solve to find creative solutions to the issues they face
- Set goals and work for what they want
For example, say your daughter tells you she got passed over for “Belle” in the school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” and will be playing the role of “Third Teacup from the Back.” First, listen to her rant and rave, and then help her focus on what she can do next time to get what she wants. Listen to her create a plan. This way, you’re validating her feelings but giving her some power as well. Even suggest she save her babysitting money for voice lessons, and you’ll help shuttle her to her appointments.
By gently and productively pointing out the positives while simultaneously offering actionable items to accomplish, you are conveying to your children their ability to shape their own futures (to some degree). And isn’t that a “Happily Ever After” worth endorsing?
What are some other sweeping statements parents would be better off keeping to themselves?
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect nanny.