In the midst of an intense discussion or at the end of a difficult day, we don't always say the right things to our children. But what we say can make a big impact, good or bad. Here's a list of things you should never say to your kids: "I know exactly how you feel." This is a real turn-off for kids. You can't be sure you really know their feelings, and it comes across as dismissive. Instead, reflect back what you think your child may be experiencing. "You seem disappointed that you didn't make the basketball team." "The pilot won't let you off this plane unless you stop crying." I heard a frustrated dad say this to his young son on a long plane trip. The rule is simple. Never threaten what you are unable or unwilling to deliver. "You are too young to understand." This is one of the most condescending things that parents say to kids, particularly to preteens. Instead of denying information to kids, answer their questions in a way that is consistent with their level of understanding. This doesn't mean that kids are entitled to always have their questions answered. For example, you have every right to keep confidential the reason for your divorce or your sexual behavior with your spouse. Lies. Trust is one of the most important character traits you should impart to your children, and honesty is the basis of trust. This won't always be comfortable or convenient, but your children will learn a sense of integrity. Kids may ask questions at inopportune times, or challenge you with issues that leave you uncertain about how to respond. Just give yourself a time out. "That's a great question. Let me give it some thought and we will discuss it later tonight." "I hate you. I wish you had never been born, etc." We all get angry at times and say hurtful things. This becomes an opportunity for you to teach your children how to deal with mistakes. Acknowledge you did something wrong. Apologize. Say how you will avoid similar situations in the future. Criticism of your ex-spouse. It's hurtful for a child to have his parent criticized, even if the concerns are valid. This can be difficult if the other parent is lazy, irresponsible or incompetent. Focus instead on your values and expectations. "There are different rules in each family. In our house, you need to complete your homework before playing video games." "I won't tell your Dad." Never keep secrets between spouses. It sends the wrong message to kids and it undermines your relationship with your partner. Always saying "yes". Don't always give kids what they say they want or need. Say no a lot, and help youngsters deal with the reality that they are not the center of your world. Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children's Medical Center of Dayton. To sign up to receive Dr. Ramey's Family Wise monthly E-newsletter, click here. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey. [Reprinted by permission from the January 23, 2011, edition of the Dayton Daily News, "8 things you should never say to your children", Family Wise, Gregory Ramey, PhD]
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