When you are talking to your children do you ever find yourself saying:
‘Daddy will be cross if you do that. ’or ‘Mummy doesn’t like hitting.’
When what you really mean is…
‘I will be cross if you do that.’
‘I don’t like hitting.’
If so, consider for a minute how weird that sounds.
Imagine if one of your adult friends announced, ‘Bill wants to go to the pub’ when he was talking about himself. Doesn’t it sound just a bit … creepy?
And yet I know from conversations with my clients that many of us do it all the time when we are talking to our children. Talking about yourself as ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’ when speaking to your children is a very easy habit to slip into and a very hard one to break. It’s important to try because it’s difficult to take anyone seriously when they don’t use ‘I’ to speak about themselves. Using the third person to talk about oneself is really only done in interviews by very egotistical actors or is a symptom of some kinds of mental health issues.
‘I’m cross’ is so much more powerful, clear and direct than ‘Mummy’s cross’
How can anyone take Mummy seriously if she can’t even talk for herself? No wonder our children don’t listen.
Of course, when our children are small it makes sense for us to say, ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ because we want them to learn those important words. Some couples get quite competitive about which word their baby says first. (It’s usually ‘Dada’ not necessarily because your child loves Daddy best but because D sounds are much easier for infant mouths to pronounce than M sounds.) Repeating the words ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ when talking about ourselves makes perfect sense with very young children – it’s all part of helping them acquire language, just like pointing at the cat and saying, ‘Cat.’
But once your child has got the hang of who is Mum and who is Dad (and that really doesn’t take long) it’s time for you to revert to ‘I’ when you are talking about yourself.
Children learn by example. They learn to walk and talk and use a spoon or a mobile phone because they see adults doing those things and imitate them. But how often do they hear adults talking about how they feel? And if they never hear people talking about their feelings how are they supposed to know that those powerful emotions they feel are okay?
When we say, ‘I’m cross (or happy, or hungry or sad)’ we are showing our children that it is okay to identify and talk about our own emotions and express them clearly and honestly – and that is one of the most powerful tools we can give them.