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Guarding Against a Condescending Tone & Words

The deal with “Condescending”

I want to talk about a topic that I think we as parents need to guard against...speaking with a condescending tone to our children (or anyone for that matter, because our children are listening).  The definition of condescending is: having or showing a feeling of patronizing (believing that we are more intelligent or better than others) superiority. Basically, it’s really a “slap” in the face.

Let me describe the unspoken or spoken messages we are sending to who we are speaking to, when we use condescending language or tone.  They are:

  • I can’t believe you would be stupid enough to say (do) that!
  • Surely you don’t really believe that is true?
  • Do you literally have no idea regarding consequences?
  • I however, would never do (say) such a thing.
  • I am never guilty of such an offense.
  • and the list goes on

Here, allow me to give you a few examples:

Child helping dad wash the car.  Dad looks at the front where child has washed and says, “Really!!  So I guess you think bugs on the car is considered clean!”  What does child hear?  “You are so stupid that you can’t even get bugs off the car.  I can’t believe that’s the best you can do.”  Instead, Dad could have said, “Hey man, yeah that front is tough to wash.  Let me show you a little trick I use to get those nasty bugs off.  Let’s see if it works for you too.”  Difference...child now wants to do better, instead of feeling humiliated.

Mom is helping child write a paragraph for English class.  Child is mis-spelling words and failing at making complete sentences.  Mom says, “Honey!  I can’t believe you’re misspelling simple words.  You should know these.  This doesn’t even make sense.  I thought you already learned what makes a complete sentence.”  What does child hear?  You fail at writing so why try.  Instead, Mom could have said, “It took me a while to figure out the difference between the different ways to spell “there”.  Let me draw a picture for you to see if it helps.....”  Difference...instead of child becoming exasperated due to the multiple corrections, the child can feel accomplished when they understand the one grammar rule thus leading to confidence to move on to second rule.

Parents, let’s watch our tone.  Speaking with compassion and respect to our children creates a greater desire to learn and obey.  If our children hear negative “unspoken” messages too often or for too long, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves when we hear our children speaking this way to others and when our relationship with them as adults is not what we would hope.  

Start today.

Monica Irvine