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Should have, could have, always, and never

Published March 19. 2011 09:00AM

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 being told the obvious. How about motivation and suggesting options? If a teacher says "Your paper could use some descriptive detail. Why not add a few sentences that paint a picture for the reader," the student is given some concrete ways to "try harder." And, if a teacher is a good organizer and keeps tabs on her students' progress with comments such as "I see that your paper isn't ready for final draft. Let's meet right after lunch to discuss your problem," chances are none of them (or very few) will turn in late assignments.

In addition to "could have, would have, and should have," I would also like to get rid of "always" and "never." Why? Because they are irrational. "Always" means that something occurs every single time or that someone does something all the time. "Never" means the exact opposite. Impossible!

When a parent tells a child "You always leave your clothes lying on the floor," or "You never help me around the house," the child has a right to get defensive. It is virtually impossible to ALWAYS and NEVER do something. Once again, a parent's frustration is taking over and the mouth is put in gear before the brain.

Getting your child to pick up his clothes or help around the house is the goal. Telling your child WHAT TO DO is the most intelligent way to achieve the desired result. Practice saying things such as "Clothes belong in drawers, or in closets. Please help me by taking care of your things." If you want your child to help around the house, give clear, explicit instructions and expect them to be followed. If they are not, then a consequence has to be given - loss of playtime, TV time, allowance, or time with friends.

If we ALWAYS remember these phrases, our children will NEVER give us a problem, right?


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