8 classic phrases parents say (and whether they’re still a good idea!)
Are you hearing yourself spouting the same, well-worn lines to your children that your folks used to say to you? Parenting author Liat Hughes Joshi discusses whether some of the old-style parental set pieces remain wise words for modern family life.
“Because I said so”
What this usually meant was ‘what I say goes, don’t expect an explanation and don’t answer back.’ That authoritarian parenting style was commonplace when most current mums and dads were growing up.
Even if you want to pull rank – which is absolutely fine on occasion if you think you’re doing the right thing for your offspring – it’s still better to explain your reasons, albeit briefly. By doing so, they’re less likely to resent you and you’ll help them learn that actually there’s a sensible reason why dad wants them to turn the tablet off or mum isn’t going to buy the thing they’re pestering for.
The key is not to allow endless debate and back chat if you aren’t going to let them change your mind.
“Do as I say not as I do”
Even 20 or 30 years back, there was much more of a distinction between adults’ and children’s places in society. Kids understood that there were certain things – swearing for example – that grown-ups were allowed to do but it wasn’t okay for them to copy.
Somehow this doesn’t cut the mustard with 21st century little people. If you swear, shout or check your smartphone every five minutes during dinner, the idea that it’s okay for you to do so because you’re an adult is not going to wash. Modern mums and dads need to be much more mindful of setting a decent example.
“Only boring people get bored”
Rolled out when offspring came and complained they had nothing to do, it was a very handy retort and remains so. It highlights to children that they should be responsible for creating their own fun.
Definitely one to keep in your verbal back pocket when you’d like the kids to entertain themselves. It’s good for them to use their imaginations and creativity during plenty of undirected, ‘free play’. If they do get bored, help them learn that it is up to them to sort it out.
“Eat everything on your plate!”
Oh how the mealtimes of our 20th century childhoods were a very different world to those now. Parents tended to dish up what they fancied much more than worrying about what the kids would tolerate and everyone mostly ate the same. There was far less ‘kid food’ – breadcrumbed nuggets and squeezy pouches were still a twinkle in the eye of a food industry executive.
A tenet of old-style family mealtimes was that you had to ‘eat everything on your plate’. Older parents grew up when food was relatively scarce and it was sacrilege to waste it. Now though, with rising rates of child obesity, forcing them to eat everything doesn’t allow them to learn their body’s signals of when they are full.
“What did your last slave die of?”
Typically declared when a child asked their parent to fetch or carry something for them, the message was that mum and dad were not there to be their kids’ servants –something we should still be trying to encourage with today’s children.
Said with good humour, this remains a handy line when offspring are pushing it and are perfectly capable of getting their own snack/hanging their coat up/putting their grubby clothes into the wash bag.
“Just pull yourself together – big boys/girls don’t cry”
Some might argue that we’ve gone too far in making a great big fuss about every little issue our children face. That said, in previous generations, there was a lot of ‘just pull yourself together’ even when a child was seriously upset or scared.
Most of us know when our kids are over-reacting and trying it on, but when they are genuinely terrified or worried, it’s wiser to address the cause with some reassurance and advice.
“Stop that RIGHT NOW or there’ll be no Christmas presents/we’re not going on holiday”
Oh the hollow threat! It’s tempting to pipe up with one of these when the kids are doing something truly infuriating. Threaten them with no Christmas presents or throwing their mobile phone in the bin and hey, it’ll end here. Well it might but very soon they’ll work out that your threats are not real – because who is really going to follow through and cancel Christmas or the family holiday?
Instead, only talk about punishments you’d actually carry out. Better still, keep a set of consequences in mind. That way you know if they do x, y happens. Communicating this to your child will mean they understand what happens if they don’t tidy their room for the third week running.
“Respect your elders”
As kids we had to give up our seats to grown-ups at family functions or on the bus, even if they were perfectly able-bodied. We would call all adults Mr/Mrs or at best ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’. We were like a second-class passenger on the train and definitely behind the adults in the queue for any privileges. But most of all, we were to respect the older generation and their views.
The thing is though, surely not all grown-ups deserve this automatic respect? It’s healthier for children to be told to ‘behave respectfully’ to everyone – not just the elders – but not necessarily to blindly respect those who don’t warrant it. There’s a big difference there.