Recently, I had a conversation with 12-year-old Sarah, who was visiting. We were awaiting other guests when she told me, “My dad is going to be whispering in my ear to socialize more. I’m working on it, but I’m just not comfortable around people.”

Later I had a chance to speak with Sarah’s father and suggest that he could probably back off on telling Sarah to develop her social skills.

Why? Because:

  • She has heard the advice many times and understands.
  • Reminding her makes her wrong either for not trying more or for having it as a personal flaw.
  • Continual reminding can generate resistance.

I remember a similar instance when my granddaughter Haley was being pestered by her mom about preparing for an exam. Haley, a successful high school senior, had a fun reply: “Mom, it’s not my first rodeo!” You might give your teenagers permission to say the same to you!

The question isn’t about how you intend your remarks to be heard—the question is how they are actually taken by your child. Good intentions don’t make up for bad impact.

Early on, repetition is key to development.

Certainly young children need direction, correction, and reminding. Early on they are eager to learn, and continual feedback is useful. They don’t mind being corrected because they are focused on learning. Later on, however, they don’t see it as feedback and learning—they see it as scolding, correcting, and blaming.

You want your kids to be awesome and successful. That’s the motive for offering your attention and correction.

The point is: do you have the ability to not do this—can you be less automatic about doing it?

Later, consider backing off.

There are a number of reasons to back off on reminding and directing and telling.

  1. If you’ve said it a lot, your kids really do get it.
  2. If they know it’s coming, they don’t really consider it fully—mostly they just dismiss it.
  3. If you make them wrong, you cause a break in the relationship and perhaps in their self-esteem.
  4. If they know you are there to remind them, they don’t have to be responsible for their own behavior.

Probably, and most importantly, you don’t want your relationship with your kids to be defined by conversations filled with telling, correcting, and reminding. That isn’t the relationship you want as they turn 8 or 10 or 12.

Add more acknowledgment and appreciation.

The adage about catching your kids doing something right is powerful. Watch, and when they socialize in a great way, let them know the next day. When they do well in preparing for an exam, let them know.

In other words, shift your conversation from telling and reminding to acknowledging what they do well.

Thank you for reading.