What children overhear

Posted by Samantha on March 4, 2011 in Thought for the day |

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Eleanor Roosevelt, US diplomat & reformer (1884 – 1962)


One of the things I find it hardest to witness these days is well-meaning parents talking about their children as though they weren’t there.

I’ve heard about struggles learning to read and write, difficulties with making friends and fitting in, fears about going to school or nursery, all manner of frustration with irritating (but usually normal) childhood behaviour, I’ve heard about difficult and painful pregnancies and labours.  And I’ve heard about all of this within the earshot of the children being talked about.

This kind of talk is not good for children to hear.

It is NEVER a good idea to talk about the pain of your labour in the earshot of the toddler – or even older child – who “caused” that pain.  Save it for a girls’ night out and a nice bottle of wine!  We’ll laugh and commiserate and share our own pain.  Your child will only worry that he caused you that pain and what that means you think about him today.  You can always tell him the truth when he’s much older and can handle that knowledge, as well as understand that it does not mean that you regret having him!

This kind of talking about children helps to keep them trapped in the roles they have been assigned: the role of the minx or scallywag; the role of the family clown or the timid, shy child.  The role of the spoilt princess or the class dunce or the whiner.

Being impeccable in our speech is the mark of a well-lived life generally.  And it is so important that as parents we honour this important principle in relation to our children.

Talking about our children like this makes them feel like they are our property.  If we are talking about their behaviour in the present – like a tendency to be slow or uncooperative or not wanting to do home-work – we actually exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the child’s image of themselves as lazy or uncooperative or a dawdler.

We unwittingly impart to them that this is how we see them.  And it is through the mirror of how their parents see them and talk about them that children come to see and know themselves.  They don’t realise that we see many other beautiful things about them if what we mostly talk about are their faults, their failings and their problems.

Let’s just pause the next time we feel compelled to talk about our children within their earshot.  Unless we are sure that what we are saying will contribute to how we wish them to see themselves, unless we are sure that over-hearing us will be a positive experience, let’s bite our tongues and practice being impeccable in our speech.

Afterall, great minds do not discuss people!


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