There’s a fine line between being honest with your child and protecting their innocence. I always try to answer my son’s questions as best I can. At seven, he has quite the inquisitive mind. I think ignoring his concerns or sugar coating everything can be a detriment. But in the same vein, there are just certain things that, at seven, he doesn’t need to know. It’s hard to strike that balance. I walk the line daily.

But there are some things within our control. And those include the things our children hear and are exposed too. Whether it’s adult conversations, things they’re seeing on television or reading on our phones, there are certain ways to protect your child’s innocence and prevent premature questions.

Control Road Rage

This is by far, my biggest offense. It’s difficult not to react when you’re driving and another vehicle on the road cuts you off, stops short, or is tailgating you. But it’s important to control your frustration and more specifically, your mouth! Again, I am a big offender of letting certain profanities fly when I’m driving and another driver annoys me. But it’s important to reign in your language and remain calm.

Children feed off of their parents’ reactions. If you’re scared, nervous, or angry, your child feels those emotions. If you’re acting angry and upset, your child may think there’s reason for them to be upset too. Not to mention exposing your child to profanity is probably not something you want to do.

On a side note, showing respect for other motorists is something your child will remember when it comes time for them to get their license. I always raise a hand and thank a fellow driver for letting me pull out or get in front of them. I also return the favor, by stopping and waving other drivers on. My son asks me, “Who are you waving too?” or “Why did you let that person get in front of you?” I use these opportunities to teach my son about manners, courtesy and being humble.

Don’t Gossip

We all gossip at one time or another, even if we don’t realize it’s gossip. Have you ever been hanging out with a friend and started talking negatively about someone else you both know? Whether you realize it, your child is listening. They may not verbalize what they hear or even be aware that they’re internalizing what you’re saying. But speaking negatively about other adults, or children, around your own child can leave a lasting impression and one that you don’t want.

Your child takes cues from you when it comes to trusting other people. What you say goes. I mean, after all, we teach our children to listen to us and we instill our beliefs and values in our kids. If you think someone is “nasty, misbehaved, rude, or sassy”, the chances are, your child will think the same. It’s important to let your child form their own opinion about people.

Of course, you need to protect your child from overly negative outsiders, but for the most part, your child is probably a pretty good judge of character. Especially, if their decision making is based on the values and lessons you’ve taught them. So be aware of your surroundings when chatting with friends. Children have big ears. And mouths. Don’t say anything in front of your child that you wouldn’t want them repeating elsewhere.

Don’t Comment on People’s Appearance

This is another one of those situations where your child is listening and internalizing what you say. Have you ever finished a big meal, unbuttoned your pants or placed your hand on your stomach and exclaimed, “I’m so fat” or “I feel so fat”? Harmless enough, right? Well, maybe not. Your child adores you. No matter your size, weight, or build, every child thinks their parents are beautiful people.

What do you think goes through their mind when you speak badly about yourself and your appearance? Their initial reaction is likely to reassure you – “No you’re not!” But then, they may look at themselves and think, “If mommy/daddy thinks they’re fat, I must be fat too.” This is such a heartbreaking realization and a slippery slope.

In order to teach our children to love not only themselves but others, no matter how they look, we need to practice this every day. I’ve caught myself many times saying things as simple as, “I feel so fat.” My son instantly reacts by saying things like, “You are not! Don’t say that! You’re beautiful.” As if this wasn’t enough, he’s also looked in the mirror and said things like, “I’m chubby,” “My stomach is too big.” This is heartbreaking and I often react in the same way. Reassuring him he is not chubby and that he is beautiful.

Any parent would instantly defend their child against their own negative thoughts and point out all their positive attributes. So why would we expect our children to do any different? Life lessons start with us and this includes not commenting on other peoples’ looks either. Whether it’s on television or in person, commenting negatively on someone’s appearance or weight is laying the groundwork for how your child views others.

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Financial Stress

I’m sure we’re all guilty of venting or discussing finances with our partners or friends in front of our kids. I mean, they don’t know what you’re discussing so what harm is there? Believe it or not, your children, no matter how young, are pretty perceptive. Discussing real world, life issues in front of your child can cause them unnecessary stress.

Paying the mortgage, insurance, electric and grocery bills is not something your child should worry about. Ever. These are your burdens to bare as a parent. Sure, you can teach your child about saving money, responsibility and hard work but it shouldn’t be in terms of how you’re going to pay the bills and keep a roof over their head. There are just some things that a child should not be worried about and financial stress is one of them. So try to save these types of discussions for when your child isn’t present.

Background Noise

Kids find the news boring, crime or legal shows a snooze, and turn away when you’re watching documentaries. Or do they? You may not realize the negative impact that television has on your child. Sure, you probably don’t allow them to watch violence, horror films or anything that is obviously offensive or not age appropriate. But what about the things you don’t realize they are absorbing?

My husband watches the news often. They discuss bombings in other countries, domestic violence and speak negatively about politicians. Did you know that when a person hears the same thing on the news repeatedly, the closer to home it feels? That means that those scary things happening across the globe might actually strike fear in your child. It may be something that we, as adults know could never happen here. But your child doesn’t know that.

My husband and I have been much more aware of what we watch on television when our son is present. Even if he’s playing on his iPad or “not paying attention,” he likely hears more than we realize.

Think Before You Speak

This is a piece of advice that we often give our children. Think before you speak. Consider the impact of your words on those around you. This is a valuable lesson that we, as parents, can internalize as well. I have become much more aware of what I say and how I say it in front of my son. I only speak positively about myself and others, especially when it comes to my appearance. My husband and I reserve “adult talk” for after my son goes to bed. We don’t watch the news or other documentaries that discuss adult themes. All of these things influence the way our son views himself and the world around him.

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