PARENTS

12 Things You Never Want To Hear Your Child Say

02/03/2015 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Never want to hear your child say

These are the heart-sink moments of parenthood – when your child says something that stops you dead in your tracks. So how do you react when these dreaded words are spoken out loud?

"I'm being bullied."

Don't panic, says Lauren Seager-Smith, national coordinator of Anti-Bullying Alliance. "Your key role is listening, calming and providing reassurance that the situation can get better when action is taken."

First off, let them know that coming to you was the right thing to do. Then try to establish the facts.

It can be helpful to keep a diary of events to share with the school or college. "Assure them that the bullying is not their fault and that they have a family who will support them," adds Seager-Smith. "Reassure them that you will not take any action without discussing it with them first."

Next, help to identify the choices open to your child – the potential next steps to take and the skills they may have to help solve the problems. "Encourage your child to get involved in activities that build their confidence and esteem and help them to form friendships outside of school, or wherever the bullying is taking place," she says.

Also discuss the situation with your child's teacher or headteacher (or the lead adult wherever the bullying is taking place), she adds. "Every child has a right to a safe environment in which to learn and play and schools must have a behaviour policy which sets out the measures that will be taken to prevent all forms of bullying between pupils."

"Why can't I be an only child?"

This is one you're bound to hear at some point, most likely when there's some conflict between your offspring. Perhaps your child feels overwhelmed by or drained by constant arguing or defending their games or bedrooms.

Try to work out what your child is really saying, says Sue Minto, Head of ChildLine. It might be that they just need some more boundaries that everyone sticks to in order to make family life more bearable.

Also let them know that everyone can irritate each other when you are all under one roof and it is natural to feel angry and frustrated, but having simple boundaries and space between siblings can help enormously.

"Tell them that being an only child might seem like a good thing when you're arguing or when we can't afford everything, but that it can be really lonely too," adds Minto. "Point out times when your child has been really pleased to have a brother/sister, and that there will be times like that in the future too. But also acknowledge you understand that for now they are finding it difficult."

"You care more about your job than me."

"Don't just contradict what they say about you and work, as they'll only feel like you're not listening," says Zoe Sinclair, who runs Employee Matters, a company that helps people with work-life integration. "Children have to understand your need to work, but it's also important to acknowledge what they're saying."

Ask them to give you ideas about how to make it better and make a plan together, she says. "You could just decide to have 10 minutes of 'you and me time' every day where there are no rules, just fun. Maybe agree to 'no phone Saturdays' so they know you're all theirs."

Take them into work with you, if you can, she says. "It's a great way to tackle both their appreciation of why work matters and spending time together. Get your boss to run a Bring Your Child to Work Day so it's an organised event with other children and a chance to see how the organisation works, where you go, what you do. Dispel some of that mystery and help them feel it's a part of their life too."

"I think I'm fat."

"Rather than just dismissing it or arguing the opposite, it is better to reflect back how your child is feeling as a way of encouraging them to open up a bit more," advises a spokesperson for Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity.

Try to explore what has prompted them to feel this way, agrees Nishma Shah of BullyingUK. "Body image can be very sensitive so it is important to handle this appropriately. If you were to say, 'You are perfect the way you are,' the child may think you are just saying this because you are the parent and you love them no matter what."

Remind your child that the images they see in the media are not representative of reality and that pictures are often digitally retouched to create a false sense of 'perfection'. Talk about peer pressure, and the idea that friends should accept each other for who they are and not what they look like or how much they weigh.

"Remember to check in on your own attitudes once in a while to make sure you are providing a positive example of these attitudes," adds Shah. "Also try not to refer to 'good food' or 'bad food' as most things are fine to eat in moderation."

"Why won't you buy it for me? Just put it on your credit card!"

Many parents think they should shield children from financial matters, but Linda Isted from Debt Advice Foundation believes this kind of comment can be the direct consequence. "Just like parents, children need to understand the difference between the family's needs and wants," she says. "Needs include the rent or mortgage, council tax, heating and lighting, food, costs of going to work and school, secured loans (like the car or HP) and savings for emergencies."

Kids need to know that once these are paid, the second priority is savings, and only then is there any room for the 'wants.'

"If you sit down with your children and go through your family budget with them, they'll understand where all the money goes and that unsecured credit such as credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans are not free money – they can be expensive and have to be paid back."

"I hate school."

"What do you hate about it?"

"Tell me about the things that you like. Friends? Sport? Art?"

"What things do you not hate quite so much?" These are the kinds of responses parents should give to this statement, says Michèle Bartlett, Chair of the UKCP Faculty for the Psychological Health of Children.

"It is helpful to create an open space for discussion, without becoming drawn in to great anxiety," she says. "It could be that your child is dreading a particular test or has forgotten to do their homework, has got into trouble with a teacher or is just feeling a bit tired towards the end of term.

These are very typical issues which may be alleviated with some practical problem solving. Talking about it with your child can reveal whether there is a more significant underlying difficulty."

It may be important to involve a teacher they trust to try and help them deal with the issues at school, says Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives.

Remember that a child may simply hate school because they want to be home playing or with mum or dad, he adds. "If this is the case, explain to your child why school is important and they may not understand the relevance at the moment, but getting an education is an essential part of life and can help them in their career later on in life," says Todd. "It can be hard for a young person to see their future path so help them see this but keep it simple."

"Why do you and Daddy argue so much?"

This can be a horrible wake-up call. The very fact that your child is saying it shows that the arguments and conflict in your household are affecting your child on a deep level, says Paul Williams, programme lead for CANparent.

"You and the other parent might not understand or even realise that the arguing has impacted on your child, but it is, so look at yourselves first, your relationship and think about finding more positive ways to communicate."

You will also need apologise to your child and let them know that you are sorry it has affected them, says Williams. "Make a deal with them that you and daddy will not argue so much."

Arguments between parents can cause unseen resentment and hurt and also it may end up becoming a benchmark for how your children treat others later in life. "It can make children feel emotionally drained and extremely anxious," he adds.

Sue Minto, Head of ChildLine, says it's essential to acknowledge that everyone argues sometimes and that it doesn't mean you don't like each other – just that sometimes people don't agree with each other or they're tired or feeling a bit poorly.

"Explain that all these things can lead to silly arguments and say, 'I'll talk to dad and we 'll try to be nicer! And please make sure you carry on talking to me if you are still worried about us arguing.'"

"Why can't you be more like my friends' mums?"

Nobody wants to be compared to someone else in a negative way, no more so than by your own child, for whom you've made so many sacrifices. "But the reality is that most children feel this way at one point or another and often it is because of something that's not going their way. Most commonly, it's because they do not like the rules or boundaries in your family life," says says Paul Williams, programme lead for CANparent.

Your first job is to remind them that rules and boundaries are a massive part of every aspect of life, even into adulthood, he says. Then, remind them that that they may not be seeing the whole picture about their friend's life and that in fact, their friend may sometimes have the same thoughts.

"You're a rubbish parent!"

"To hear this from your child will hurt and may make you feel quite resentful too, given all that you do for them," says Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives. "But the fact is that children often take their frustrations out on the people closest to them and unfortunately parents often bear the brunt of this."

Try and remain as calm as possible and discover why they are feeling this way, he advises. "Is it because you haven't given in? Is it because you have had to discipline them? Explain why boundaries and rules are necessary in family life and let them know you understand their frustration and encourage them to find a different way to express their frustration."

You may want to give them a little notebook where they can write down how they feel and give them the option whether or not they would like to show you. "Unfortunately, many parents at some point or another will hear this from their child."

"I hate my life."

"Many adolescents can seem to be struggling as this a period of significant developmental change, with intense feelings about belonging and peer relationships as well as exam pressures at school," says Michèle Bartlett, Chair of the UKCP Faculty for the Psychological Health of Children.

"In addition, it is not unusual for adolescents to seem unmotivated ("Kevin the teenager"), so it can be difficult for parents to tell the difference between this and depressive symptoms. Your GP or school can help with whether it may be appropriate to refer to CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service)."

In addition, some schools have an 'in house' psychotherapist or counsellor, who can offer your child a confidential space to talk though their feelings."

"Ask your child to help you understand what is it they'd like to be different," suggests Sue Minto, Head of ChildLine. "It may help you get to the root cause, although warn them that you may not agree with them. You could also point out that there are times when you too wish you were more like other people, but also times when you're happy with who you are. The most important thing is to say, 'The way I am is always about loving you and wanting to make sure you are safe and happy.'"

"I'll never be good at ...(something they love)"

Your gut instinct will be to reassure your child that this is not the case. But it is important to find out why they feel this way, what prompted them to feel this way and whether or not they have been presented with something that has taken them out of their comfort zone.

"Set aside some calm time and talk to them about all the things they are good at and how sometimes we can be better at some things than others," says Paul Williams.

"Ask them to list down all the things they think they are good at and use this list as a starting point on things they would like to improve. This will help them build their confidence and self-esteem. If your child says they are not good at anything, then you can write down all the things that you feel they are good at starting with caring, helpful and then onto more practical skills."

It can take time to help them build their confidence, he admits, but this is an important part of parenting and one thing that is a continuous process.

"I sent my boyfriend a picture of me topless and he's sent it to all his friends"

Sadly, this type of scenario has become all too common, says Michèle Bartlett, Chair of the UKCP Faculty for the Psychological Health of Children.

"In reality, it is likely that your teenager will avoid telling you this. If, however, you find out that this is the case, you can get help. It is important for young people to understand that disseminating indecent images of anyone under the age of 18 is technically a criminal offence - distributing child pornography. Mind you, unless there is an abusive or criminal intent, the Police will be more likely to offer appropriate support and advice."

CEOP have many useful resources to help young people in how to stay safe online and what should and should not be shared, she adds. "The best preventative is to maintain lines of communication about what your teenager is doing online and to encourage your children to be circumspect about sharing details or images.

"A good question for them to ask before pressing "send" is "would I be happy for my Mum/Grandma to see this?"

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