I never say never. But I never say these things to children:
Authority is in direct conflict with a Practice Life Method philosophy. Our goal is to allow our children the freedom to cooperate, not to force them into submission. Issuing commands is not only verbally abrasive, but it reaffirms a tiered power-structure and invites power struggles with the child. Instead, frame things as “It’s time…” or “We need to…” to present circumstances clearly and objectively so children can understand expectations.
“You’re acting like a baby…”
I don’t believe that any particular facet of humanity is age-specific. Grown-ups can finger paint, kids can have responsibilities. Building a hierarchy based on age is discriminatory and won’t help empower your child to actually be a productive, constructive member of the family.
More specifically, comparing a child’s behavior to that of an infant’s is increasingly dangerous if there is a new baby in the home. As big sister watches and builds associations between baby brother’s behavior and the attention he gets, big sister may mimic similar immature behaviors to get attention. Then when you say “You’re acting like a baby,” all big sister thinks is “I know, that’s the point, now where’s my attention?”
Best case scenario? “Are you a baby? I thought you were a big girl,” confuses the child. Worst case scenario: you’ve crossed wires and your child doesn’t understand what’s wrong with acting like a baby, so she continues to act like one.
We’ve all heard it. “If you don’t ___ right now, I’m gonna take your ____ away for a ____!” The child hardly winces because he knows that the parent is full of it. False threats represent an adult’s intention to parent by forced submission, which goes against our big-picture parenting goals. And, more immediately, false threats simply teach children that adults are not worth respecting because they don’t mean what they say.
Elliott Cortez, Ph.D. says, “Telling a child not to cry is telling a child not to feel.”
My goal is for children to be outwardly expressive and internally critical with their emotions. That means they express their feelings to those around them while being mindful of what those emotions are telling them about themselves. To achieve this goal, we cannot diminish feelings or any representation of them. While I don’t allow feelings to change a circumstance—if he’s sad that he doesn’t get a toy when we go to buy a present for his friend’s birthday, that still doesn’t mean that he’s going to get one—I’m always willing to listen to him process his emotions and support as necessary.
When Leslie Knope tells her triplets that “peas turn into cupcakes in their tummies” it may seem like a harmless little fib. But as we get to “Don’t go into the garage, there’s a boogey-man out there!” then it’s a little clearer to see that our white lies might do some damage. If you create boogey-men, you are inventing something for the child to fear. And at that point, what are you expecting to happen when you eventually do ask her to go out to the garage?
To avoid stepping over the line, don’t draw the line at all. A lie to get a child to (or not to) do something is a manipulation and circumvents reality (not what PLM aims to accomplish because we are striving for mindfulness).
If she shouldn’t go in the garage right now, then “The garage is closed.” And eating veggies should be implicitly expected and structurally supported. The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa can still come around (tradition has its own merits), but full out lying is unnecessary and obtrusive to parenting.
Our words should be a clear representation of reality. If we can accurately articulate circumstances and our emotions, then maybe, just maybe, our children will use communication, not as a crude tool, but as an authentic means of expression.