That was my least favorite phrase growing up. It hurt every time I heard it. There wasn’t a “NO!” big enough to convey that I was out of control, my mind racing not-on-purpose, my agitation quick and energy boundless. I was confused, embarrassed, frustrated. I was not attention-seeking, not acting out for fun.
Every adult who grew up with the ADD/ADHD brain type probably has a particular reprimand that still makes his or her stomach clench. Those few words that can convey so much pain, anger and regret, even decades later. Language is such a powerful part of who we are, and it should not be treated lightly, especially with children. Forget the old sticks and stones rhyme; the hurt from words can last much longer than a scrape or cut.
Watch Your Mouth
As a parent, whether you have an ADD/ADHD brain or not, I want to remind you to watch your mouth.
In an ADD/ADHD family, there are undoubtedly days full of exhaustion, overreaction, and unruly behavior. There are times when we hear our own parents’ cruel words jump out of our mouths instinctively, in frazzled moments. It’s going to happen. We’re human.
The key is not to get lazy about your language. Blurting out phrases like, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why do we have to go through this again?” might relieve stress in the moment, and feel relatively meaningless. But those words have consequences. If your children grow up with a constant soundtrack of exclamations and reprimands, they will become accustomed to thinking of themselves as mess-ups, problem-causers, trouble-makers. There’s no telling how deep the scars of negative self-image can go in a sensitive child.
It can take a lifetime to overcome a few years of belittling and bullying in childhood. I believe that anyone can eventually get to a place of self-respect, confidence and even forgiveness – but when it comes to your beautiful children, wouldn’t you rather skip that and never let them doubt their own worth?
Use Language Thoughtfully
Here are some strategies to help you keep your language positive and encouraging:
- Plan ahead for times when your children typically annoy you, especially when you are feeling stressed and tired. Instead of hyper-focusing on what’s wrong or needs to be done, be proactive and take 15 or 20 minutes with your kids to unwind and have some fun together.
- Plan alternative ways to speak to your child when you are upset. Use words and behavior that is less hurtful to their fragile self-image. Take a few seconds to imagine how you would feel if you traded places with them.
- In those moments when you are upset, remind yourself what is most important to you: 1) your child’s self esteem, or 2) whatever has triggered your annoyance or frustration. The incident causing the frustration will soon be forgotten. Your child’s memories and self-confidence will last a lifetime.
- Talk about challenges and negotiate with your child. This will empower your child to feel respected and appreciated. It is also a good way for your child to learn the important life skill of cooperating with others, both inside and outside of the family.
- Most importantly, never tell your child she is bad, thoughtless or disappointing. There is always a reason for a child’s unwanted behavior, and children often don’t know how to express what it is. Say instead: your behavior upsets me, you are acting badly, or I don’t understand why you did that. That will open up the conversation for a child to trust they can tell you how they feel. Behavior can be changed and improved; being a bad or disappointing person can be a life sentence of inadequacy.
Remember, language has power. Be careful how you use it.