“What were you thinking!?”

Have you said this to your kids before? I have.

I analyzed this statement and what I came up with is this: it’s hurtful.

  • The tone of voice that usually accompanies this statement is one of disgust. Disgust alienates and separates, it’s a relationship killer.
  • The asker of the question has already decided that what was done was wrong. There is no seeking to understand.
  • It shames rather than build skills.
  • The question is not meant to be answered, it’s meant to condemn.
  • The statement conveys the message that the child is not smart, stupid even. This is not a good message to send, especially not repeatedly. Kids grow into your expectations.

There are better ways to help kids learn from mistakes.

  1. Aim to teach rather than shame.
  2. Use positive tone of voice.
  3. Normalize mistakes because everyone makes mistakes.
  4. Give the child the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Focus on solutions and empower your child to address his/her own mistakes.

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