Certain words should be banished from our vocabulary. In particular, I detest hearing "could have, should have, would have" coming out of people's mouths. By the time they say those words, the event is over, so the words are wasted.
Parents are especially wrong when they use those words to their children. For instance, if a father says "You should have slowed down. The cop wouldn't have stopped you for speeding if you would have been driving the speed limit." Duh. No kidding, Dad. Why even say that? It's so darn obvious.
Or, let's listen to the Mom who tells her daughter "If you would have used protection, you wouldn't have got pregnant." Double duh. Great advice, but a little tardy.
That's what known as locking the barn door after the horse escapes.
When parents say such statements to their children, they think they are doing the right thing. They think they are teaching the kid something important. Wrong. There is no teenage driver alive who doesn't know about speed limits and traffic tickets. There is no teen-age girl alive (unless she's been locked in a closet for twelve years) who doesn't know that unprotected sex can bring babies.
Why, then, do parents insist on using these useless words? I think it's because they don't know what else to say.
If the father of the speeding teen wants to say something useful, his chosen words sound like this – "Now you've learned that there are consequences to breaking the law. I don't think you're ready to be behind the wheel yet. Give me the keys. We'll try again when I think you're ready."
If the mother of the pregnant teen wants to say something useful, her chosen words sound like this – "Let's talk about what your plans are for this baby. From now on, you will think first of the baby and second about yourself."
Parents get angry and emotional when faced with a crisis that their children bring to the family. Many times, the first comment a parent makes is a useless, frustrated, angry, knee-jerk reaction. That type of comment never leads to the problem solving stage. Usually, all the comment does is cause greater stress.
Parents who are reading this are probably thinking "Dr. Smith, I am only human. How can you expect me to react calmly and rationally when my kid has just screwed up?" Well, I do, because YOU'RE THE ADULT. Even if you need to walk away and spend an hour alone in your room until you get in control of your feelings, that's better than making things worse.
Teachers often make the same mistake with their students. I often heard an instructor say "You should have tried harder" or – "If you would have turned the paper in on time, your grade would have been higher." Duh again. That's the poorest kind of teaching.
No one learns something by