Why I never tell my children off…

It’s rude and disrespectful.

It’s not a nice way to speak to anyone.

It will not help them learn how to communicate well with others.

It’s not an effective tool to change behaviour.

Most importantly, I value my relationship with my children and I want them to feel safe and secure in their relationship with me. If they make a mistake I want them to be able to talk to me.  I want to be able to support them when they need it and for them to feel confident that I will help them look for ways to make things better… from clearing up spilled milk to supporting them as adults.

If our children are endangering themselves or others then, of course, we want to protect everyone, do what needs to be done to keep people safe. Shouting ‘No’ or ‘Stop!’ or intervening however best fits the situation, that may be just what is necessary to keep them alive in that moment. But most situations really aren’t emergencies even though sometimes it feels like it.

When children are overwhelmed by their emotions and not coping in a situation then telling them off is not what they need. If we imagine ourselves in a similar state of mind and consider what we might want from those we love, it is not likely to be a good telling off!

We might need to have some space, time, attention, food, quiet, information, a hug, someone just to empathise and maybe, when we are ready, someone who can support us to access different tools to manage the situation next time.

Often when our children make mistakes, make messes, argue with their siblings or express strong emotions then our own strong emotions are triggered too. We may feel stressed and angry, fearful and inadequate. We may lash out in frustration or so that others can see that we are dealing with the situation. But if we can get a handle on our own emotions then we are better able to be there for our children.

In many cases we may just need to provide information, explain why it may not be a good idea to pull the cat’s tail or whatever the situation happens to be. We can take steps ahead of time to prevent situations arising where we might feel the need to tell our children off.

We can set our children up for success rather than wait for opportunities to correct them. Talk to them before we go into certain situations, remind them of what might be expected of them, what may happen and why. Helping them feel more prepared by playing out possible scenarios with toys, or role-play, so they feel more confident and aware of what the expectations of others might be.

There may be some situations that our children are just not ready for, they find it too hard to sit still and quiet for long periods and so a trip to the cinema might need to wait for a later time when they are more able to deal with it.

In those moments when we feel that we have to intervene we just want something to stop. Someone may be making a noise that is irritating or behaving in ways to others that we do not feel is appropriate. In the short term telling them off can achieve this, the behaviour may cease or change. But at what cost?

By telling our children off, or anyone for that matter, we set up a power dynamic – in effect we are saying that what they want to do or how they feel is less important than what we want, that we are in charge and they must do what we say regardless of whether that feels right to them. This damages our relationships, severs meaningful connections and may show us to be unpredictable and untrustworthy. We may invite future conflict and power struggles as resentment builds about our treatment towards them.

By modelling how we would like ourselves and others to be treated, with compassion and dignity, with understanding and patience, then we are supporting our children not just in that moment but we are building strong foundations for their ongoing relationships with us and with others.  Isn’t that we really want?


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