Tips for Censoring…Sensibly
I recently took the misstep of staging a meltdown…in front of my four-year-old.
Frustrated by too many projects at work and some sad medical news in my family, I ran into our bedroom, slammed the door and proceeded to yell and throw clothes around for five minutes. I'm not sure, but at one point I probably uttered the “D” word (damn). When I was done, my son walked into the room with a big smile on his face…and extended his arms. He wanted to give Mommy a hug for having a bad day.
Clearly, he was taking cues from me, since that’s what I do when HE’s had a bad day and decides to throw a tantrum.
I don’t think my meltdown will have any long-term effects on my son, but the incident did make me pause and wonder: as a parent, when is it imperative to censor oneself?
Kathy Caprino, a marriage and family therapist, and founder/president of Ellia Communications, a women’s career and marketing coaching firm, says it does matter what you say in front of your children, and how you say it. “The occasional swearing isn’t a problem. After age 12 they’ve heard it all. Of course, don’t make swearing your mainstay of conversation. But if you swear, apologize for it, and move on,” she advises. An even bigger concern than swearing is using words as a weapon against people and things, Caprino says.
“Being cruel, lacking in compassion, speaking hatefully and judgmentally – this is what’s damaging to a child,” she adds.
Marital issues are another topic that should be off-limits to children, says Dr. Richard Horowitz, Ed.D., parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting: Your Guide for Growing Great Families.
Parents should also refrain from conversations which could make a child feel insecure, he says. “For example, a discussion between adults that starts with ‘What is the world coming to when a member of Congress gets shot?’ might be perceived by a young child that they are no longer safe. When an issue external to the family is being discussed it is important to reassure the child that they are safe in the family,” Horowitz says.
Laurie Gray, a language teacher, attorney and parent to a nine-year-old daughter, says there are no topics that are off-limits in her house. However, “we do try to keep conversations on sex and violence age appropriate and set healthy boundaries on what is personal to us as a married couple and also what is personal to us as a family.”
Most experts agree that arguing in front of the children is neither a wise nor healthy decision.
“Our daughter already knows that her parents don't always agree on everything, but we make it a point not to argue about what is best for her in front of her. It's never okay for parents to engage in a knock-down, drag-out fight in front of their kids,” Gray says.
Last on the taboo list: criticizing yourself in front of a child. Mothers in particular may remark that they need to lose weight or complain about the rigors of getting back into shape, Julia Simens, a clinical psychologist specializing in child, adolescent and family therapy, says.
“When a son or a daughter hears these comments they get the message that appearance is what matters. Mothers can create a lot of issues around body image in the early years of their child's life when we often don't think it matters. You can easily send these messages to children as young as four years old.”
Before staging my next meltdown, I may decide to hug my son first as a preventive measure (and keep the “D” word to myself), in keeping a happy and healthy home.