“You ALWAYS let her go first!” “We NEVER get to have fun.” “NOBODY likes me…”
Sound familiar? Our kids are masters of hyperbole—using language that blows a set of circumstances completely out of proportion and distorts the truth. This can be a problem when you’re counting on your child to give you an accurate picture of what’s going on at school, on the playground or with friends. If it happens regularly, it can also be a red flag that your child is a “glass half empty” kind of person.
So how do we break the habit of “always” and “never” in our kids’ language? The following strategies may help:
- Set a good example. Are you guilty of the same types of exaggeration? If so, you may be the very place your kids learned to communicate in these terms. Check yourself the next time you say, “You never clean your room.” Is that absolutely true? Remember that never means, well,never. Not rarely. Not insufficiently. So hold yourself accountable for using accurate language in your own communication.
- Help your children see that leaving a false impression is dishonest. They may have a hard time understanding this one at first, so take the time to break down your child’s extreme statements and show them how it’s misleading and unfair. Even if they didn’t really intend to mislead the listener, or didn’t think they were telling a lie, they’ve said something untrue. And that’s never OK.
- Offer suggested alternatives. Your child’s tendency to use terms like “always” and “never” may be rooted, in part, in a lack of options. When you stop them in an extreme statement, help them re-state it in more accurate terms, like “rarely” or “sometimes” or “often.” This may be especially helpful to younger children who are still developing language skills. Practice makes perfect.
- Help your child see how their words can shape their thinking. It’s much easier to go through life as a glass-half-full person, rather than a glass-half-empty one. Help your children spot their own “all or nothing thinking” that can lead to negative interpretations of their situations, themselves and their life.
If they say, “Nobody ever talks to me at school,” and you don’t correct them, in their mind, they will feel like no one ever does talk to them. So, help them redirect their thinking. “Honey, let’s look at what you just said. Did no one really talk to you today?” Encourage them to look for the reality in what they’re trying to see as black or white.
And finally, as in all parenting strategies, be consistent. As inconvenient as it may be in the midst of a busy day, the time you spend keeping your kids accountable for the language they use will pay big dividends over time. Not only will you be able to trust your child more fully when he or she describes a situation to you, you’ll also help that child garner the confidence and respect of others. Trust us—it’salways worth it. Really.
Related Resource: Feel Wheel