It’s usually possible to make a strong case that your child should have done something—or done something different—in a particular situation. So what? There is no point in laying blame for what “should have” been done but wasn’t. The useful question is not whether the “right” thing was done, but what action is appropriate given the current situation.
A “should have” statement is a phrase designed to dispense guilt. It is an effort to attach shame and fix blame. “Should have” statements draw your children’s attention away from problem solving and produce feelings that are counterproductive to searching for solutions to the problem at hand.
“You should have listened to me.”
“You should have minded your own business.”
“You should have known better.”
“You should have called him right away.”
“You should have told me sooner.”
“You should have asked me.”
“You should have paid closer attention.”
‘You should have finished that at school.”
“You should have thought of that earlier.”
These “should have” phrases and others like them do not build a relationship of trust and caring. Instead, they leave your children feeling apprehensive about bringing a problem or concern to your attention. They fear that they’ll be bombarded with blame and ridicule. They actively avoid involving you in the search for solutions, closing down the line of communication.
Resist telling your children what you think they “should have” done. Consider altering your response to address the choice they have made. Select Parent Talk that communicates in a style that is open, honest, and direct.
If you have strong feelings about a behavior or desired response, communicate it directly. Explain the reasons for your feelings. Be specific in your complaints. Tell how the behavior impacts your life. Communicate to your children exactly what you prefer and why. “I want you to call me when you’re going to be late so I don’t worry” is more effective than “You should have known better.” “I would like you to finish your school work at school” is cleaner than “You should have finished that at school.” “When you listen carefully to the directions your teacher is giving you, there’s a better chance you’ll understand what is expected of you” is more respectful than “You should have paid closer attention.”
You will create more results that are positive in your parenting if you remove the “should have” verbal weapon from your language arsenal. Stop “shoulding” on your children and watch them grow in responsibility, caring, and confidence.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
CHICK MOORMAN and THOMAS HALLER are the authors of The Abracadabra Effect: The 13 Verbally Transmitted Diseases and How to Cure Them. They are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish free parent and educator newsletters. To subscribe to the newsletters or obtain information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.