Controlling Negativity When Communicating with Our Children

Dr. Fran Walfish
March 16, 2011

No matter how non-judgmental and open we think we are, we all grow up with negative or critical messages that shape us. We all on some level categorize others in our minds. Many of us have strong uncomplimentary opinions and we sometimes, intentionally or not, communicate these thoughts and ideas to others. These messages, just like parenting styles, get handed down generation after generation, so if you are a negative or critical parent, know that your style and your messages will likely carry through to your grandchildren and beyond. Even the most kind, patient, and loving parent slips into a negative statement once in a while. Controlling negativity in your communication is for the parent whose automatic style is critical, angry, overly strict, or rigid. It is the repetition of experience that imprints a child's self-esteem and developing sense of who they are.


  • Accept the fact that all of us grow up with messages of bias. Know where biases and judgments exist within you. Own it. Then you can decide whether you want to alter those beliefs.
  • Take an honest look inside and notice if your anxiety rises when things are not in place, organized, or delivered on schedule. If you react by controlling, you may be a perfectionist. Practice allowing your anxiety to rise and notice how much you can tolerate before taking control. Try raising the ceiling on your maximum tolerance level. Your goal is to be able to bear the anxiety that comes with imperfection.
  • Do not ever compare or contrast your child to others. Measure your child by his or her own standards.
  • Stay open-minded and flexible. Remember that rigidity is not healthy.
  • Remind yourself that there is always more than one way to view and deal with a situation.
  • If you are engaged in a power-struggle with your child, let go of the arm wrestle. She can only keep tugging if there is someone on the other end pulling in the opposite direction.
  • Rules and boundaries must be stated with clarity, not anger. Be clear and concise, yet kind and empathic in your delivery.
  • Know that for you, a critical person, life really is a little harder. Your expectations for yourself are greater than most. And the same is true for your child. Feel empathy for yourself so that you can feel empathy for your child.
  • Stay open to listening to and hearing your son or daughter's feelings. You don't have to agree with child's demands. But everyone wants to be heard, validate, and understood. So give that courtesy to your child.
  • The strongest motivator for change is pain. Don't wait for something terrible to happen. Make improving your parent/child relationship and lifelong happiness of your child your motivation.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I believe standards are just guidelines telling us how strong we should be in our efforts in expecting some things from our kids for example- potty training. Comparing kids to other kids may not always work. It may work well in some situations. But it just tells the kids , in my opinion that their unique qualities are not that important. I know, we don't use comparisons too often. But still, to help kid reach the particular milestone, emphasizing his/her unique qualities and helping him/her to achieve the milestone using those qualities has worked in my son's case. Success is slow but lasting long.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    You write "Do not ever compare or contrast your child to others. Measure your child by his or her own standards." Aren't standards by definition developed by comparisons? How can a child have "their own standard" for when they accomplish milestones - if a child is still in diapers at age 5, that's just "thier own standard"? No, I see that other children are able to potty train by then. Standards are community standards, at least in large part. There is a balance to be struck here, not entirely in the direction of 'no comparisons.' Kids compare themselves all the time, and this is not inherently a bad thing, it depends on what ends it is put to.

    over a year ago


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