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Parenting Words -- To Say Or Not To Say

John K. Rosemond on

When I began reading “The 9 Words Parents Should Never Say to Their Kids” (January 5, 2018, www.fatherly.com), I was skeptical that essayist Patrick Coleman’s point of view would line up with my own, and I wasn’t disappointed. Coleman began by saying that certain words have “overwhelmingly negative consequences” to children but only one of his nefarious nine met my never-say standard.

I don’t know of any mainstream newspaper that would even print the word in question. Furthermore, the sort of parent who would tell a child that he or she is (word in question) isn’t reading this column (nor Coleman’s either); therefore, to even mention it would be superfluous. One must wonder why Coleman even included it, especially given that there are more hurtful derogatories.

So, that leaves eight, seven of which I see no problem with, if used in the proper manner and in the proper context. For example, I would not call a child a “liar” but I would have no problem saying “You lied to me.” The former is character assassination; the second is presumably factual. It’s worth mentioning that Coleman thinks “most kids aren’t being malicious in their lies (sic).” Perhaps he and I hold markedly different definitions of what constitutes being malicious, but it simply is not true that most lies told by children are innocent.

Coleman maintains that telling a girl she is “bossy” is sexist (my term, not his) because that amounts to telling a girl she shouldn’t try to be a leader. I have personal parenting experience with a bossy girl – namely, my daughter when she was a pre-teen. She was experiencing a good deal of social conflict at the time because in play groups it was her way or the highway. When she complained to me about her difficulties, I did not hesitate to tell her that other girls did not appreciate her bossiness. She was not being a group leader; she was being obnoxious. She needed factual feedback from someone who loved her. She finally “got it” and began making lasting friends.

I would not tell a child “You are spoiled,” but I would have no problem telling a child “You are acting spoiled.” The difference, which Coleman fails to make, is significant. Likewise, I would not say “You are stupid” to a child, but “That (something the child did) was fairly stupid” might be entirely appropriate under certain circumstances. Again, the difference is between using a word that maligns a child’s character and using the same word to refer to a specific behavior or instance. The same rule applies to “selfish” and “smart.”

According to Coleman, a boy should not be told he is a “heartbreaker.” That supposedly “gross” term “puts (a boy) in the context of romantic love and sexuality (long before) those things should become a concern (sic)...” and also introduces a boy to the notion that “male gender roles are about power.” Mind you, I think telling a young boy that he’s a heartbreaker is kind of, well, dumb, but I don’t think that particular word contains the apocalyptic power Coleman ascribes to it.

Where Coleman and I really part ways concerns “princess.” He thinks it’s okay for a young girl to imagine herself to be a princess, but parents should not call a girl “princess” because that might “pigeonhole a little girl into a demure, pink, princess box before they’ve (sic) had a chance to explore other avenues of identity.” He swears he’s not talking about “gender fluidity” by the way, but simply saying that the label might restrict a girl’s options. I doubt it. I often called my daughter “princess.” She insists that it did not warp her self-image. She was clear that we were not European royalty. She is still my princess, but she is also still an underling to my queen.

When I was young, like Coleman I took too many things much too seriously. Even so, I would not tell him that he is humorless. That would slander his character. I would, however, tell him that he would do well to lighten up. Come to think of it, I give that same advice to young parents fairly often.

*About the Author: Rosemond has written nine best-selling parenting books and is one of America's busiest and most popular speakers, known for his sound advice, humor and easy, relaxed, engaging style. In the past few years, John has appeared on numerous national television programs including 20/20, Good Morning America, The View, Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, Public Eye, The Today Show, CNN, and CBS Later Today.

Click here to visit Rosemond's Web site, www.parentguru.com.


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