I was a massive Boyzone fan at primary school. We all were, right? I had one bright blue poster of Boyzone wearing A LOT of denim on my bedroom wall. If, at age nine, I had only been able to look at one thing for the rest of my life, I would have chosen that poster. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now confirm that this would have been a terrible mistake, but at the time, Boyzone were my everything.
As a fellow Boyzone fan, I’m sure you remember their song ‘Words’... right? In it, the five future husbands of my ten year old self repeatedly croon the phrase ‘It’s only words’ (I really hope it’s stuck in your head now. YouTube it, I dare you. Did you? Yeah, they’re not as dreamy as they were when you were ten, are they?) Thanks again to the gift of hindsight, and perhaps age, I can now see that there is no such thing as ‘only words’.
A few simple words can change everything, and I think this is never more true than when you are a child. Not a weird poster-of-Stephen-Gateley’s-chest-kissing ten year old child (because by this age no words in the world could get through to a girl staring at her Boyzone poster - feel free to insert a more topical pop reference here, but I have no idea who anyone is post 1999), but an actual tiny just-starting-to-learn-about-the-world child, like mine. To these kids, to my daughter, your words are everything. And here are five things I really wish YOU would stop saying to her:
- Be careful
There is a ramp leading to the car park at our local train station. The footpath turns back on itself, and there is a short wall between the two sections of the ramp. Ebony loves nothing more than to walk along that wall. As soon as we alight the train, she will make her way to the top of the ramp. Whilst there, as the commuters and other passengers start to walk down the path, she slips past them, under the handrail and straight onto the wall. Once there, she will look at me and grin, and then walk along the wall until she reaches the other side of the ramp, at which point she jumps down and opens the gate leading to the car park.
The wall is not high, nor is it dangerous. And yet, each time she stands on that wall, the other passengers will tell her to be careful. They will look around her, concerned, and demand that she hold on, slow down or be careful - which she does, even though she doesn’t need to. A couple of days ago, we were the only passengers to leave the train, and as soon as she climbed the wall, I heard Ebony muttering to herself that she needed to be careful. It’s disheartening to see my usually fearless child giving in to the worries of strangers.
I hate the word naughty, and I’m not going to lie and say I never do it, because sometimes - when I’m stressed and tired and I just really want things to go as planned - it slips out. And I hate it, and always take it back immediately. But I try my absolute hardest not to say it, so thankfully it is a very rare slip of the tongue. Yet I’ve noticed the rest of the world only too quick to label children, toddlers, babies even, as naughty. I really wish we wouldn’t label children (or anyone, actually) at all, least of all as something negative. I know when I have been called things in the past, the comments have stuck with me, leaving me wondering how much truth was in them. I assume children must feel this too, especially when the comments are made by an adult, and probably ten-fold when that adult is in a position of trust.
- Good girl
This is a pet hate of mine. If there’s one thing I don’t want Ebony to be described as when she’s an adult, it’s a good girl. I want her to be a force to be reckoned with, a strong minded woman, and someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. I don’t want her to be a do-as-you’re-told, wouldn’t-cause-trouble, vegan-butter-wouldn’t-melt, sweet-mannered woman. I want her to get shit done. And sometimes, that means speaking up, it means standing up for yourself, and it means fighting against what you’re told. So, whilst it can be annoying at times to spend my days with a two year old who will not wear a coat on even the coldest days, says no to most requests, and is positively contrary at every possible opportunity, I know we’re heading in the right direction. I for one am not going to squash that strong side of her personality, I want it to shine through. And I really wish other people would stop complimenting her on doing exactly what they say, because I love the fact she isn’t afraid to voice her (admittedly often downright nonsensical) opinions for all to hear.
- It’s ok
This one really drives me crazy because, you know what, sometimes it’s not ok. A good way of knowing whether it’s ok, is to listen out for crying children. Should you hear the sobs of a child, it’s pretty safe to assume that things are actually not ok. I don’t care whether she’s banged her head, is upset because someone else has a toy she wants, or just feels tired - I don’t want people to dismiss her upset. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but that’s probably because you’re not two. If you’re stuck for something to say when a child is crying, try offering reassurance by saying you are there, not by telling her that her emotions are not valid.
Just because, well, she isn’t actually a boy. Short hair does not necessarily signify ownership of a penis.
Which phrases drive you crazy as a parent?
Which phrases drive you crazy as a parent?