Things Your Mother Said: Part 2
Sometimes uttering Mommy phrases such as, "Because I said so!"? is okay, but sometimes it's not! Listen to what Lynda Ackerman, PsyD thinks about it.
Back in January, I checked in with Lynda Ackerman, PsyD, to see what she thought of four things your mother used to say (Does “Because I’m your mother and I said so!” ring any childhood bells?). But let’s face it: Mom had a lot more than four pithy one-liners in her arsenal. Below are four more of them—and the lowdown on whether you should use them, too, or let them go the way of your MC Hammer pants.
(Don't jump ahead—read Things Your Mother Said: Part 1 first!)
Expert says: Ding, ding, ding! Number one answer!
I can so remember my brother and myself groaning whenever we asked my mother a question and she gave this answer (as in, “Can we go to the Cyndi Lauper concert?” “We’ll see.”).
When kids ask a question, they want a (positive) answer, and they want it now. After all, waiting is hard to do, especially when you really really want something. But, says Ackerman, patience is an essential life skill that kids need to learn.
Make a tough pill easier to swallow by explaining what you need to find out or think about before you make a decision. For example, my daughter recently asked me during a car ride if she could ditch the booster seat, as many of her friends have. I told her, “We’ll see. When we get home, I’ll look up the safety guidelines and let you know.”
When you give this reply, your child will probably badger you endlessly for an answer, in which case Ackerman suggests you tell your kid, “I know it’s hard to wait, but you’re not going to influence me by asking me over and over. In fact, you’re making me mad by doing that.”
Now here’s the tough part for you: Saying “no” (if you need to) after your child has patiently waited for an answer. It’s tempting to want to reward her for her patience by saying “yes,” but letting kids do something that’s not in their best interest is rarely a good idea. Besides, you don’t want your child to get the message that patience is always rewarded. As an adult you know that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but you’ve got to practice it just the same.
Again, Ackerman says a hard lesson can be made easier by providing an explanation (“I looked it up, and experts say it’s safest to stay in a booster until you’re 4’9”). Acknowledge your child’s patience and disappointment, but be clear that your decision is final.
“Go to your room and think about what you did.”
Expert says: Sort of.
When things get out of control, sending your kid to his room to cool down is fine, but until age 10 or 11, kids lack the ability to truly self-reflect—especially when angry, says Ackerman.
“You have no way of knowing or controlling what they’re going to think about in that room,” Ackerman points out. Little ones, especially, are more likely to sit and think about how wronged they were and get even angrier.
Of course you want your child to think about what he’s done—and what he could do better next time—but it’s better to wait for a calmer moment to help your child figure it out. So go ahead and send him to his room (Ackerman advises saying something like, “There’s no hitting, and you know that. You need to take a time-out in your room.”) After he’s gone to his room and truly calmed down (could be right after, or hours after--use your judgment), talk to your child about what happened. Ask him, “What’s another choice you could have made?” If he doesn’t know, help him out. If he hit his sister because she took a toy from him, Ackerman says, you could say to him, “There’s no hitting—you know that. So next time, ask her with words to give the toy back. If she won’t, come to me and tell me what’s going on.” Ask your child how he feels about the choices you discuss, and what choice he’ll make next time.
“I’m sure the starving children in Africa would love this meatloaf!”
Expert says: Um, no.
Before resorting to this old line, says Ackerman, think about what you’re really trying to say. Are you just angry that you slaved over a hot stove and now your child won’t eat the fruits of your labor?
Or are you truly concerned that your child is ungrateful and has no concept of waste and need? If so, that’s a longer conversation—and one that’s probably best had at a time other than when she won’t eat your meatloaf.
In the moment, says Ackerman, it’s fine to say, “This is what’s for dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, you don’t need to eat.”
What to do in the long term? Young kids can’t process what it means that some kids are starving while they live in a land of plenty. So make it real to them. Contribute to food banks together, take your child with you to drop off her outgrown clothes at a nearby shelter, help out at soup kitchens, and talk to her about helping the needy.
“If Isabella/Aidan/Katy Perry jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?”
Expert says: You can do better.
There’s no doubt about it: You absolutely want to convey to your child how important it to think for himself. (You can imagine the ramifications in the teenage years if he doesn’t get the message that he shouldn’t do things just because others are doing it.) But, says Ackerman, while you understand what you mean with this line, all he understands is that you’re being flippant about something that’s important to him.
First, acknowledge that it’s legitimate for your child to want to do things that he sees others doing. Then explain that you care about him, and it’s your job to make decisions that you feel are best for him.
What if he counters with, “Well, Aidan’s mom wants what’s best for Aidan, but she’s letting him (fill in the blank)?” Tell him that every family thinks for itself, and there are differences, Ackerman advises.
I took that advice when dealing with the aforementioned booster seat situation. When I told my daughter she’d have to ride in a booster until she reached 4’9”, she brought up specific friends who are out of booster seats and shorter than 4’9”. I (calmly) said, “I’m not in charge of them. I’m only in charge of you and your safety. I understand that it’s hard to still have to do something your friends aren’t doing anymore, and I wish I could make this easier for you. But I can’t let you do something I don’t think is safe just because others are doing it. I care about you too much.” I can’t say she then thanked me for being such a good mom, but she did understand that the decision was final—and, hopefully, the larger lesson at hand.
Ackerman offers one caveat: If your child really is the only kid not allowed to do something, it’s not a terrible idea to review why you’re saying no—and to change your mind if there’s really no harm in it. For example, your child asks if she can go to a Taylor Swift concert with her friends, and you give your gut-reaction answer of, “No, you’re 10 years old, you’re not going to a rock concert!” Afterward, your child tells you who’s going, who’s chaperoning, etc., and you begin to think it sounds ok. In such situations, it’s all right to change your mind instead of sticking to a bad decision. After all, that’s a good life lesson, too.
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