Adults often tend to neglect the emotional and psychological needs of children. We focus on satisfying their physical needs, and feel that our job is done: nutritious food, adequate shelter and sleep, exercise and healthy living environment.

Besides satisfactory physical development, children also need a wise adult, who acknowledges their efforts and struggles, which for them are great achievements. By utilizing effective parenting skills, we should praise them for their efforts, and not just for the results or rewards. When praising our children, we need to be generous and wise with our words. Rephrase what you habitually say to your child and witness the change!

Instead of “Good job!”- say “you really tried hard on that!” We say this repeatedly, and mostly for the things our child hasn’t really put any effort into. This teaches children that anything can be a “good job”. Instead, when you say “you really tried hard”, you focus on the child’s effort. Thus, the child learns that effort is more important than results. This also educates children to be more relentless when they’re attempting a difficult task, and in the long run realize that failure is just another step towards success.

“Good boy / Good girl!” instead say, “I appreciate it so much when you cooperate!”

When children hear “good girl!” after performing a task you’ve asked them for, they assume that they’re only “good” because they’ve done what you’ve asked. Your approval or disapproval decides whether they are good or bad.

Try “I appreciate it so much when you cooperate!” This gives children a reality check about what you wish, and how their behaviour impacts your experience. You can also show your feelings by saying something like, “I saw you shared your toys with your friend!” – acknowledging what they did.

“What a beautiful picture/ painting / drawing!” instead say, “I see a lot of different colours! Can you tell me about your picture?” 

Never judge a child’s art work, especially if you see he has put too much effort in it. Children take pleasure in colours. This evaluation actually robs them of the opportunity to judge and assess their own work. By making an observation, you’re allowing your child to decide if the picture is in fact lovely or not- maybe the child intended it to be a scary picture. But, when you ask them to tell you about it, you’re engaging him to begin to evaluate his own work, and share the intent and skills behind it. That in turn will dole out their creativity as he matures, and grows into a more confident individual.

“Stop it right now, or else…!” instead say, “It’s not ok to do that…I’m worried that you will get hurt…” 

Threatening is never a good idea. To begin with, you are the one teaching them a skill you don’t really want them to learn; the aptitude to use brutality, or great sly tricks to get what they want, using negative strength, even when the other person is not determined to cooperate. Next, you’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable position- where you either follow through on your threats, demanding a punishment you threatened earlier, in the heat of the moment. Or, you can back down, while teaching your child that your threats are meaningless, and it’s ok to break commitments. In both cases, you are not getting the result you want, and in the process damaging your bond with your child.

“If you __ then I’ll give you ___” instead say, “Thank you so much for helping me clean up!”

Bribing a kid is absolutely damaging and discourages him from cooperating simply for the sake of ease and harmony. If you use it often, it’s bound to come back and bite you. he won’t do a chore unless you surprise or reward him subsequently.

When we offer our sincere appreciation, children are inherently motivated and continue to help. And, if your child for any reason hasn’t been very helpful lately, remind him kindly of the time when he was, and how pleased you were. For instance, “Remember how once you helped me clean the kitchen / bedroom / wardrobe? That was such a big help. Jazak’Allah Khair Katheeran (May Allah (swt) reward you)!”

Purpose should be to allow your child to draw the conclusion that helping out is fun; and basically rewarding; and who better will reward than Allah (swt).

“You’re so smart!” instead say, “I appreciate your efforts!”

As adults, we feel that when we tell children they’re smart, we’re helping boost their self-confidence and self-esteem. If you tell your child that he is smart, you are unintentionally incorporating in his tender mind the message that he is only smart when he gets a certain grade, accomplish a certain goal, or produce the perfect result — and that’s a lot of pressure for a young person to achieve.

Studies have shown that when we tell kids they’re smart after they’ve completed a puzzle, they’re less likely to attempt a more difficult puzzle after. That’s because kids are worried that if they don’t do well, we’ll no longer think they’re “smart.” Hence, involuntarily we put them in a doubtful situation. But, if you encourage them and tell them, “Wow you really tried hard! You really gave your best shot!”; the child is likely to attempt a more challenging puzzle the next time.

By focusing on the effort, rather than the result, you’re letting a child know what really matters. Unfortunately, this has become a norm in our society. This will also influence their religious duties in the long run; rather than focusing on the process, unconsciously the mind and actions will spin around results – probably instant results.

“Don’t cry.” instead say, “It’s OK to cry.”

As true Pakistanis, we love telling our kids to stop crying. Putting up with your children’s tears isn’t always easy. But, when we say things like, “Don’t cry,” we’re completely annulling their feelings, and telling them that their tears are absolutely unacceptable. This may result in silently teaching the children to learn to suppress their emotions, which can ultimately lead to more volatile outbursts of emotions.

Tell them, “Sometimes, it’s ok to cry!” and with that try verbalizing your child’s feelings. When you encourage your child’s emotional manifestation, you are helping him regulate his sentiments – a vital skill which will serve him throughout his life and for the generations to come.

Later, teach him through Sunnah what he should actually cry and worry about. Instill the love of Prophet (sa) to redirect his emotional need to pour out.

“I promise…” instead, be super honest with your child

Never break a promise, keep your promise and they will keep their promises. Children are a reflection of you and love to imitate. Give them the best to imitate. If you can’t do it, don’t make false promises. Be honest and keep them in the loop. If you are going through a financial crunch- be open and discuss with your child, than to let him assume that life and everything in it is picture perfect.

Remember- be wary of the dangers of hypocrisy out of which one is breaking a promise.

“There are four (characteristics), whoever has all of them is a complete hypocrite, and whoever has some of them has some element of hypocrisy, unless he gives it up: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a treaty, he betrays it; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; when he quarrels, he resorts to insults.”(Muslim)

Don’t be the one to give your child the first lesson in hypocrisy.

“It’s no big deal!” instead say “I know you really wanted to do that, but it’s not going to work out for today,”

Empathy- show it so they can learn and benefit from it.

Children often value things that seem small and insignificant to an adult. So, try to see things from their point of view, whatever their age may be. Empathize with their feelings, even as you’re setting a boundary, or saying no to their request. Sympathize and show compassion, remind yourself how Prophet Muhammad (sa) used to show mercy on children. Kids will mimic anything you toss their way.

“Why did you do that?” instead say, “Were you feeling frustrated because your friends weren’t listening to your idea?” 

Often, children inadvertently do things against a parents’ wish; if your child accidentally attempts to do so, you certainly need to have a conversation with him. However, in the heat of the moment, when the emotions are high, is not the best time to lecture. Your child is in no position to learn from the mistake he just carried out.

So, when you ask a child, “Why?” you’re actually compelling him to think about it, and analyze his behaviour- which is a pretty advanced skill, even for adults. When confronted with this question, many kids will shut down and get defensive, may often lead to dishonesty and deception.

Keep the doors of communication open by guessing what your child might have been feeling and what the underlying need might be, which lead to a certain kind of behaviour.

Imam Ghazali says: “Child is a trust (placed by God) in the hands of his parents, and his innocent heart is a precious element capable of taking impressions.”

The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah (swt) will ask every caretaker about the people under his care, and the man will be asked about the people of his household”

(Nasa’i, Abu Da’ud).

Every parent must think and find answers to the following queries:

  • Are you helping (your child/children) or hindering?
  • What do you say about your child to others?
  • Are you putting yourself down?
  • How do you respond to your child?
  • Do you apologize to your child?

“Today’s children need more positive role models. Not more critics.”

  • Reed B Markham, American Educator.