The Things We Tell Our Children

Last school year my daughter, Gigi, came home distraught one afternoon—she had her first misunderstanding with a good friend. It was drama filled and in her young mind, she didn’t think they would ever be friends again. She didn’t have perspective, just hurt feelings and sadness. Like most young children, all was better within a day or so. Gigi worked things out with her friend and that began our journey teaching Friendship 101.

After a recent disagreement with a neighborhood friend, I paused while giving Gigi my normal advice. “Friends go through things from time to time,” I told her. “If you care enough about the friendship, you will find a way to work it out. All you have to do is try to communicate as best you can and that goes both ways. You have to listen as well and it will all work out.” And that’s when I heard myself.

It will all work out.

It will all work out?

The harsh reality is, it doesn’t always work out.

As she gets older, the elementary understanding of being a friend will become more complex as will disagreements. There will be many factors that determine whether everything will work out and I should be mindful of giving her the hope that friendships will always mend. I may be setting her up for possible heartache down the line if I continue to paint such a rosy picture.

Friendships can end horribly and without warning. They can end under ambiguous, confusing circumstances, the worst of which is the betrayal and cruelty of being “ghosted” (a term not just reserved for how a romantic relationship might end). She may have to deal with “mean girls,” bullies, people trying to get next to her for the wrong reasons or friends that avoid conflict and won’t give her the courtesy of having a conversation.

It’s a small thing, saying “it will all work out.” But the implication is big–that it will all work out the way she wants it to work out. But there’s much more to it than that.

“It will all work out…however it’s supposed to work out,” I added in a last-minute attempt to provide more balance. “But the most important thing is that you treat people the way you want to be treated and that you do the right thing. It may be painful but the best people I know are people who have learned valuable lessons because they went through hard things, not because everything always worked out the way they wanted…..” I was rambling at this point and Gigi just looked at me like I was speaking German.

And just like that, the subject changed and we went on with our day.  This small exchange, however, made me consider other things I may be saying that could influence how my children cope later in life.

Here are a few more worth re-evaluating:

  • “If you’re not ready in the next 5 minutes, I’m going to leave you.” Threatening to leave a child behind seems like it may motivate an intended response. But that statement alone could generate anxious feelings about possible abandonment.
  • “Keep it up and you will end up at the hospital.” Telling a child they are going to end up in the hospital if a certain unsafe behavior persists, reinforces fear about having to go to the hospital. Sometimes it’s important to go to the hospital, perhaps even life-saving, but if a child grows up fearing hospitals, it may become an issue when it’s really necessary.
  • “Did you stay out of trouble (at school) today?” The inference that a child has to stay out of trouble isn’t altogether a bad thing. But trouble often provides an opportunity to learn valuable lessons such as manners, grit, how to follow rules and much more. This statement can become an issue if the main focus is put on the notion that the child is always in trouble, not learning from mistakes.
  • “Let me do this, then I will help you.” Nothing is more important than your child and your actions should reflect as much. If you’re always doing something, like a lot of moms understandably trying to multi-task far too much, children may feel as if they don’t come first. Sometimes it is okay to stop everything, literally, and just be with your child.

As parents, we don’t always have the luxury, patience or time to ensure our little ones are comprehending what we intend. However, it’s healthy to consider word choice and perhaps provide additional explanation or context.

Then again, Oprah Winfrey once said, “nobody escapes childhood uninjured” and that gem has echoed in my ear for decades. Because of and in spite of your every effort, your child will have issues.  It’s called being human and you are a parent.

**Also published on BabyCenter Blog.

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