“Speak up” your kids: Keep the venting private; focus on positives in public

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Confession: I’m good at truth-telling and being real. It’s not that I’m terrible at complimenting or lifting up my friends and family. But sometimes, I do let honesty come before the emotional needs of those I love most.

This isn’t a good habit to hold as the parent of three boys and a foster parent to children who have had to cope with a lack of security and safety. It should be — and needs to be — my job to use positive words in the best way for their hearts.

So hear me now; I’m preaching to myself.

Parents: We need to “speak up” our kids to other people. When we’re catching up with friends or family, consider our children’s precious ears and what they hear when we offer up impressions of them.

Think of an instance when a really close friend or a partner talked about you. For many of us, a joke here or there at our expense isn’t the end of the world. Or think of that time when your sibling reminded everyone you were the family “jokester.” In context and as an adult, these interactions can be easy to brush off.

If you’re a kid, this flexibility doesn’t apply. Kids take things literally, and their hearts take words at their full weight. It’s up to us to respect this about them. We need to be intentional with the way we talk about our kids.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Save the negative talk for when the kids are not around. We all need to vent and swap stories about our kids’ antics, but we are fools if we think for a second that they don’t hear us when they’re awake or in proximity. Kids have open ears when they know the conversation isn’t intended for them, so save the venting for one-to-one adult time.

2. Try prompting your child to share a recent “win” with an adult friend, family member or acquaintance. Let your child share a recent accomplishment with the cashier at the grocery store. Or prompt your child to tell your best friend how he learned to apologize to a friend at summer camp. Take opportunities to lift up your kids in front of other trusted adults.

3. Avoid labeling your kids. At the end of the day, no one wants to be pigeonholed. This is especially challenging, because we all do it, and it has been done to us. Do your best to save your predictions about your child’s future or your interpretations of their personality to yourself (e.g., Johnny is the shy one of the family! Jane is such a jokester; she is always making us laugh).

4. Practice daily affirmations at the dinner table or on the ride to school. Take a few minutes daily to share a specific affirmation of each child in the family in front of all the other family members. Be detailed — noting exactly what you’re proud of and why you are happy for your child.