I was inspired to write this post by Sarah Therèse, who just posted a video on YouTube about the parenting rules she does not follow. I decided to use the term “parenting strategies,” since I think we can all agree that there are no hard and fast rules!
Here below is Part Un of a non-exhaustive list of the parenting strategies I do not use with my daughter. Part Deux will follow next Monday! Please keep an open mind as you read. If you can relate, awesome! If not, please tell me why in the comments!
Pour yourself a cup of coffee with me and let’s do as we say, not as we do…
This is probably the hardest one not to do, because we are not only conditioned to give our children praise, but we actually like doing it!
Telling our children “Good job!” and “Wow, you’re so strong!” gives us the warm-and-fuzzies, especially when we see a huge smile on their face.
I get it. It’s natural to praise. But in my mission to parent C more consciously, I scaled back my praise from the very beginning, and here’s why:
I believe there is no real need to praise my child in any and every situation. Nuance is key. Did she pee on the potty? Yes, cool! But I don’t need to throw her a party. No one throws us a party when we eliminate over a toilet. So why should parents create this fake reality for their children?
Overusing praise trains your child to expect it. You might disappoint them if you forget to praise them for something. They’ll remind you. I don’t like that in a child, personally. My child is not a performing monkey. She should not come to expect praise as a given from me.
It supports the development of extrinsic motivation, as opposed to intrinsic motivation. If C does something great on her own, I want her to feel good about that from the inside, not because I am praising her and throwing her a party.
Let me be clear: I do praise my daughter, but I am very choosy about when I do it and what words I employ.
I have learned to get around praise by saying things like, “Hey, look, you did it!” instead of “What a good girl!” or, “I’m so happy for you,” instead of “Great job!”
Nobody likes a label. This “rule” of mine goes along with the praise, but note that it can be positive or negative.
In my recent article on why I didn’t have a birth plan, I touched on labeling. I am against the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy for my child. I refuse to tell her she is “good” or “bad” or “silly” or “stupid” or even “smart.”
As humans, we can be any of those things at a given time. I am not denying that sometimes we are those things. But those labels shouldn’t define us. We are just those things at a certain point in time (for an instant, for a year). We change, we grow.
Let everyone off the hook and reframe your speech so that your child is only this label in the moment. It’s what the French do! We say “You’ve done a silly thing,” not “You’ve been bad.”
I am in no way saying you shouldn’t reprimand your child. But if you constantly told him he was a bad boy, he’d start to believe it, and based on the frequency, you’d start to believe it, too. He would start behaving in accordance with this label, which has become a belief about himself—and so would you.
I don’t like when parents say “That’s my unruly child” or “That’s my quiet child” or “That’s my smart child.”
What one child can be today, he can be something else tomorrow!
Using “motherese” (baby talk)
Motherese, for the purposes of this article, is using an unnaturally high voice, often coupled with theatrical gestures, to speak to children. I am sure you’ve witnessed this before in people who sort of squat halfway down with their hands on their knees to proclaim something loudly and shrilly to a child in front of them.
It makes me cringe when I see adults doing this. Kids aren’t stupid. I am sure they are cringing inside, too. If you are acting theatrical or unnatural, children know.
I find using motherese is disrespectful to children. If we wouldn’t converse that way between adults, then why do it with children?
Normally, I’m all about that. But there is a fine line between using a certain register with your children and acting clownish. Be real with your kids. Otherwise, you run the risk of them learning that in order to communicate effectively, they too need to act unnatural and clownish.
Just be yourself. Speak like you would to a friend. Children are more than capable of grasping what you are saying when you speak normally.
This is not to say that you should speak to a child as though he were an adult. Children will gradually understand more and more. Adapt your explanation to your child’s development.
But don’t “dumb yourself down” just because you are speaking to a child.
Bribing is when you create an exchange, offering something you know your child wants in return for something you want.
You can bribe using an object of value or an experience. For example, you can promise a piece of candy in return for your child cleaning up his toys. Or you can promise a lovey toy in return for your child sharing with another.
Now, sometimes bribing may have its place. There is probably a huge grey area around what you and I think of as bribing. You might say I bribe my daughter when she asks me for a yogurt and I reply, “Sure, if you finish your plate first.” There are different levels of bribing.
But mostly I stay away from it.
The main issue I have with bribing is that it represents a pattern of control in your relationship with your child. I personally do not want my relationship with my daughter to be about control.
Fact: I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to control anyone, much less my daughter. I would much rather build a relationship based on mutual respect, wherein she does what I ask because she has learned that it is ultimately in her interest or that of our relationship.
Easier said than done!
Another problem I have with using bribes is that it can teach children to expect an external reward, like when you overuse praise. They learn that pleasure is extrinsic, and they become motivated only when an external reward is offered.
I would much prefer to intrinsically motivate my child by showing her the value in what I am asking her to do. If I ask her to clean up her toys, I would like for her to someday enjoy doing that because she wants to clean up her toys, because she has learned to appreciate a tidy space—not because I have threatened to punish her or bribed her with reading another book.
It’s a lofty goal, but I am doing my best to refrain from using bribing as a means of control.
Using “magic words”
Here is another grey area upon which I had to find common ground with Papa.
When I was little, “Say the magic word” meant that as long as I said “Please,” I would get what I wanted.
It’s actually a form of bribing, isn’t it?
At C’s age, we tend to use this parenting strategy at mealtimes. Again, this is not what I would have done on my own, but I needed to compromise with Papa. He really insists on having C say please and thank you before letting her have any food.
Apart from refraining from bribing, I am specifically against the technique of asking your children to “use the magic words” because I think it’s too simplistic a way to get what you want: for them to be polite.
Yes, we all want to raise polite kids. They will undoubtedly be more successful in life if they know how to be polite. If our kids weren’t polite, we’d be seen as “bad parents,” as someone who did not do our jobs properly.
In France, simple words such as s’il te plait, merci, bonjour, and au revoir seem to carry more weight than they do in the United States, where I grew up. For example, it is considered extremely rude if you walk into a shop and do not exchange a greeting with the owner or employee.
So, Papa has been very adamant in teaching C to use these words. I too would like her to use them. My approach would have been to model the behavior I wished to see in my child. I believe that, without expressly telling her to do so, C would have naturally greeted and thanked people. The main motivation (intrinsic!) would have been delighting others.
But we do insist she say these words. I do believe that with this method, she says them because she knows she has to, not because she wants to, so ultimately it’s less motivating (extrinsic versus intrinsic). But sometimes you need to just pick your battles with your spouse, amiright?!
Using cutesy words
I do not use an abundance of cutesy words to describe objects or ideas to my daughter. I’ll admit, the main reason is less ideological and more practical: we are raising her bilingual. I want her to know the correct word for something in two different languages, simultaneously.
I would like her to be an effective communicator, and to do this, she needs to use terms that everyone understands. Using cutesy words would be doing her a disservice and is, quite frankly, disrespectful.
Plus, words are very important to me, as a writer, copyeditor, and proofreader. I know there is power in words to change our emotional states and even our physiology.
So, it is very important to use to use the exact, proper terms for anything and everything.
There are always exceptions. Parenting should be fun, after all. You can relive all the sweetness of childhood when you have your own children. I use “binky” for C’s pacifier, and we use “doudou” for her loveys (as opposed to “peluche” or “plush toy”). These words are generally understood by everyone, however.
Personally, I think the most important instances where you need to use the proper terms are when talking about the body and the mind. Using the proper words for body parts will help instill self-respect for your child’s body and encourage healthy habits. Likewise, using the proper words to describe feelings will lead to a better emotional intelligence so that your child can successfully manage not only his own feelings, but interpersonal conflicts.
Stay tuned for more parenting strategies I do not follow…
Now, I am not very rigid in adhering to the above methods. In order to be an effective parent, you need to use nuance to your advantage. Observe your child. Listen to him (not just his words—try to see things from his point of view according to his developmental stage).
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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