It may sound like a cliché, the threadbare howl of moms and dads echoing throughout history. But no truer words have ever been spoken: Parenting is the greatest challenge a person could ever face.
And it drives some of us to scream it at the top of our bleeding lungs.
If you are not a parent, you might ask yourself why you are reading this. Maybe you are considering having a kid. Maybe you are a young person who is curious about the process or, more specifically what goes through your mother’s mind before she threatens to ground you until you are legal drinking age. Or maybe you are such a sadist that you read parenting advice columns, reveling in the misery of those of us who made the mistake of procreating – sometimes more than once.
But alas, the parents among us know. Children can drive us to the brink of insanity, push us to the very limits of our patience and force us to consider physical violence of the criminal variety. In the heat of the moment, we can say (and do) things of which we are not proud. That such a small person can exert such control over us, mature, right-thinking and level-headed adults, is absolutely mind-blowing.
It has been advised that when new parents are faced with a stressful situation, they should count to 10, taking calming breaths to relieve the roiling anger and frustration attendant to a child’s meltdown. Most of us can reign ourselves in before we reach the point of infanticide, but it’s always good to take a moment to reflect on how we discipline our children. As corporal punishment continues to fall out of favor, parents are tasked with maintaining a level of self-control never before expected of them. This. Is. Hard.
In the interest of self-reflection, I have compiled a list of six things you should never say to your kids, in the throes of a parent/child battle or otherwise.
1. “Shut the fuck up and listen to me!”
As tempting as it is to shut down that mouthy little brat, telling her to shut up is the absolute wrong way to handle the situation. Yelling at a yelling child serves no purpose other than to escalate the yelling. Raising your voice to get her attention is one thing. Engaging in a shouting match is an entirely different thing. And, according to most child psychologists, when the child has reached the point of delirium, she is beyond communication. A time out is in order, for you and for her. Cooler heads prevail in situations like these, and a quiet child is, more likely, a listening child.
2. “This will hurt me more than it will you.”
No, it won’t. In fact, if you are considering hitting your child, you are probably already resigned to the fact that it will bring you relief. Smacking a kid is a dangerous proposition, and even little “swats,” as my corporal-punishment-endorsing friends call them, can lead to harder and longer beatings, especially for parents who are already pressurized after long days at work. Which brings us to …
3. “You don’t know how easy you’ve got it.”
This makes no sense to a child. Of course they don’t know how easy they’ve got it. They have nothing to relate “it” to while you’re making this very important point. Moments of realization like these come when you’re not around. When they witness a friend being smacked around by an abusive parent or see how few toys the neighbor kids has, compared to his overflowing cornucopia of fun stuff. And be careful. This little sentence can backfire on you, when that smartass little son of yours snaps back about his friend who, actually does have it much easier than he. “I want to go live with Stanley. His dad NEVER does this.” Touché, little man. Touché.
4. “Wait till your father (or mother) gets home.”
What the hell does this even mean? Here is a veiled threat that serves no purpose than to strike fear into a child. And why are you so incapable of dealing with the situation? Why is the specter of the other parent’s arrival more powerful than any meaningful disciplinary measure you can muster? If you really can’t handle the situation, take a break, put the child “away” (in his room or in time out), gather your thoughts, and deal with it. By the time the other parent gets home, one of two things will have happened: You will have lost your cool and done something stupid or both of you will have forgotten that you were waiting for the other parent to get home. (See also: “Your mother [father] is NOT going to be happy about this.”)
5. “I am going to strangle you and throw you in a ditch.”
Or any of the numerous declarations of the “I am going to kill you” variety. I have uttered the above to my child, although in jest. We have a running joke about physical violence as discipline since our house is a corporal-punishment-free zone, but there are parents who do use this kind of rhetoric to threaten their children. You may be one of them. Don’t. First, if you mean it, then you should follow through. A child gets wise pretty quick to empty threats. So if you say, “Next time you do that, I am going to stab you in the face!” well, you better do it. ‘Cause that kid will know you are BSing from then on. Stab or shut the hell up, dad. More importantly, though you may be letting off steam by shouting threats you know you’ll never act on, imagine the desperate fear your child feels, regardless of his wrongdoing, when you unleash such verbal viciousness.
6. Why can’t you be more like your sister (or brother)?
Wow. How humiliating for a child to hear these words from the person who is supposed to love her for whom she is. The struggle of parenting can’t compare to the struggle of a child trying to find herself, trying to define who she is among the push-and-pull of growing up. Issuing such a loaded question is humiliating and cruel. If you ever say this to your child, hang your head in shame, apologize, then spend the next few hours trying to be more like someone else. Someone who is much nicer, much more compassionate than you.