Little Ears Are Listening
For me, it was the day that my then 2-year-old daughter responded to my request to change into her pajamas with an emphatic wave of a kitchen towel and the exclamation of "you've got to be joking me!" Since then, there have been so many of these moments - from her simple "I'll see you in the morning" to the time she told my parents to "calm [their] bodies down and take deep breaths." All parents will have these moments where their children use the exact words, expressions, and exclamations that you do in the exact tone accompanied by the same gestures. You will undoubtedly stop dead in your tracks and think holy crap where did you learn that from? Well, the answer is you. You then question everything you have said in front of your child and all of the possible future, potentially hysterical, and always eye-opening phrases they will say that came directly from your mouth.
It is important to be hyper-aware of the little ears that are always listening to what you are saying. It can become so easy to slip into comfortable conversation with other adults as the kids play around you thinking that they are tuning you out completely. Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect and sometimes find myself having conversations with my husband that I know should not be had in front of the kids but it comes ever so naturally to us that it takes even more effort to try to stop this bad habit before it becomes an issue. Even amongst my friend group, we hush our voices as we discuss parental issues, behavioural obstacles we need support on, and general negative talk that, when shared, makes you feel like you aren't alone. Trust me. I get it. Dishing the dirt, having adult conversations, and relating to others is essential to our survival but having discretion when it comes to who is listening in, needs to be more than an afterthought.
It matters how you speak to others about others:
It doesn't matter who you are talking to or who you are talking about. The way you speak about others gives your children permission to speak that way too. No matter how many times you tell your children to "be kind", the message will be lost when they don't see your actions matching your words. Children aren't born vicious, they learn to be that way. They are listening in even when you think they aren't. It is a tough balancing act because sometimes you are simply speaking the truth. Unless, however, you would like your child to speak that way to others or to think of others the way you are speaking then you should save those conversations for times where only adults are listening.
It matters how you speak to others about them:
They hear what you say about them. The way you speak to others about them can have a lasting effect. It is just as important as how you speak to them because they know you aren't lying to others. When you are speaking candidly to friends/family you are speaking the truth. These often well-meaning, day-to-day, conversations give our children glimpses into how adults interact. It takes years for children to learn sarcasm, nuance, hyperbole, or subtlety and, as a result, our overheard words can have a different impact than intended. Beyond that, we often share with others the highest highs and the lowest lows of a day so they only hear the extremely positive or the extremely negative.
It matters how you speak to them about others:
This one drives me crazy because it is easily avoidable. There is absolutely no reason to ever speak negatively about anyone else directly to your child. I can't think of a time where there would be an exception to this rule. As your children age, they will draw their own conclusions about others. There is no reason for you to do this for them. At just 3, Maelle sometimes tells me that someone was "being bad" and my go-to response is that "he/she is not a bad person; they are a good person who just made a bad decision."
It matters how you speak to them about them:
Kids worship their parents and putting a statement out into the world makes it true to them. Labeling your child, no matter what that label is, has them internalize what it means to be something and makes them feel that they are exactly that. The weight of your words is truly a heavy burden for your child to carry. Lighten their load by avoiding all labels as much as possible. There is no need as "negative" labels will lower your child's self-esteem and create a self-fulfilling prophecy for them, while "positive" labels can mean they are already at their best and can inhibit their drive to excel beyond what they are currently capable of.
It matters how you speak about yourself:
Lastly, be aware of the way you speak about yourself. This is often the hardest one to do. I am conscious of the way I speak about myself while my daughter watches on (and one day my son too). She thinks I'm perfect exactly how I am and I want her to believe I think this too. No matter how much I would like to change, how many flaws I see, I want her to know that being happy with who you are is an option and hopefully it's the one she chooses. There is enough pressure in this world to look and be a certain way and I want her to grow up knowing that she can find happiness within herself. I want her to have a positive role model regardless of the fact that I am already jaded from simply living through the cruelties of growing up. One day, she will feel this negativity on her own so it is my job is to simply prepare her as best I can to stand up to it and to feel confident in spite of it.
Nothing I am saying is revolutionary. Nothing in this blog post is something that you haven't heard a thousand times in a thousand different ways. But my major point is to try to be more aware. I am the first to admit that this slips my mind so the reminder is as much for me as it is for anyone reading this. Let kids be kids, let them form their own opinions, and most importantly let your kids be who they are not who you think they should be.