When I was a toddler, parents put kids in playpens to keep them from getting into things. While the contraptions themselves have been redesigned and are now squishier and easier to assemble, they are basically the same thing. Yet, call it a ‘playpen’ and you will be subjected to rude stares and shocked ‘how-could-you?’ faces. No! We no longer ‘pen’ our children. Or we do still pen them, but we call it a ‘play-yard’ and it’s all okay.
There’s more to this parental terminology – like the famous “we don’t believe in spanking” phrase. I always wondered about this one. Do these people believe that spanking doesn’t exist? I assume they mean they don’t believe they should do it to their kids. So they put their kids in the corner. No, wait. They would never do that. They put their kids in the corner, but call it ‘time out’. Yes, that makes it good.
I’m waiting for when these kids grow up and play in professional sports. The coach calls a time out and all the pro athletes cross their arms, huff and pout about why they are being punished.
There’s more to it than just the names we assign. It’s in the way parents talk to their kids, too. For some reason, we think it means more or works better if we don’t say ‘be quiet’ but say ‘use your inside voice’. Really, it means nothing if you don’t at some time say to the kid ‘go on. Use your outside voice.’
A phrase that started up about ten years ago, and totally drives me bonkers, is “Use your words.” Whoever thought this up should sleep poorly at night – I’m coming for you! Parents will look at a whining or crying kid and just say this phrase over and over. While the idea is fine, that’s as far as it gets. Nurses everywhere know that it’s medically inappropriate to tell an agitated patient to ‘relax’ or ‘calm down’, because it actually makes them worse. Think about the last time you were upset and someone said this to you. Chances are, you yelled back “I am calm!” See? It doesn’t work. And “use your words” has the same problem. I’d have a lot of respect for a little kid if he responded to this phrase with “Okay – bite me!”
One of the newest of these bad parenting phrases is the term “Bad Choices”. Why is that man in prison? He made bad choices.
Does this really help any kid? I understand that we need to talk to kids about decision making, but does throwing a catch-phrase at them solve the problem? A good friend of mine has two kids about eight years apart. When the second arrived, they all talked to him in normal tones of voice, except for the older brother, who cooed and spoke baby yammer to the new infant. My friend pointed out that, if the baby was smart at all, he was going to wonder what was wrong with his older brother.
There’s something to be said for that point of view. Though most kids don’t have adult vocabulary, neither do a lot of adults! Why talk to them in a way that talks down? Any decently intelligent kid is going to pick up on this. You’d never talk to another grown-up this way.
Imagine this: you are at work and you have to talk to an employee about his performance. You say to him, “well, you made bad choices.” When he stares at you gape-mouthed, remind him to “use your words.” Then when he does find his words, and calls you any manner of names, just smile and say “inside voice, please.”
With the behavior we see in most kids these days, clearly this new ‘parent speak’ isn’t even close to working. Maybe we need to step it up a notch.
The other day I was in the car with my kids and a squirrel darted in front of me. Then he did that stupid squirrel thing where, halfway across the road, he switched direction and went back. I swerved. The dumb critter changed direction one more time, putting him square under my tire. I felt bad. I really tried to avoid him. But it was too late. So I decided to give his life meaning. Maybe others could learn from his mistakes. When my kids asked if we had hit the squirrel, I said “Yes. He made bad choices.”
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