As I was growing up, I heard a lot of the same words over and over again, in regards to my behavior. The redundant questions and statements from parents and teachers brought a lot of unnecessary confusion and pain into my life.
See, I have Sensory Processing Disorder, which creates a lot of unique challenges for me. You can learn more about SPD by reading my article, One Reason I’m So Weird.
I’m sure my disability was the main reason the following words were repeated like a broken record. However, they did a lot more damage than good. Words can really impact people who takes things very literally, like me. This is true whether your child has a disability or not.
Here are five things I believe you should never say, with some alternatives to try instead. Perhaps these can help turn your struggle with a difficult child into an opportunity to help.
1. What’s wrong with you?
Hearing this question always made me shrink inside. It diminished my self-confidence in massive amounts. Just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Sure, my brain doesn’t process the world around me the same way yours does. My perception is very unique. However, these words led me to believe I was a mistake, or broken.
Say this instead: “You have a special gift. You were made for a purpose.”
2. I’ll never understand you.
This may be a true statement; people can never understand how I feel or perceive the world without being inside my body and mind. However, these words lack compassion. The thing I wanted more than anything as a kid was to be understood, or validated; for people to believe my battle was real and not just write me off.
Say this instead: “I am so sorry for what you’re going through.”
3. Why can’t you act normal?
Believe me, I wish nothing more than my body and mind would stop betraying me all the time. I want to enjoy peace and joy in everyday life as much as the next person. Now don’t get me wrong, learning to behave in social situations was an important life skill I needed to develop. However, pointing out the fact I was not like everybody else only made me feel like an outcast. It shattered what little hope I had at times.
Say this instead: “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
4. Why can’t you be more like your brother(or sister)?
My mother only said this to me one time, but it lingered with me for a lifetime. I know, now, she didn’t intentionally mean to hurt me by saying this. She was simply frustrated in the moment because I challenged her at every turn, whereas my brother was an easy child to care for. However, the words of comparison made me believe my parents loved him more; like there was no value in being me. This resulted in intense feelings of rejection, hurt and confusion. In fact, I ran away at six years old because I honestly thought my parents would be happier if I was gone. That’s a whole other story.
Say this instead: “I love how different and unique you are.”
5. You’ll never amount to anything.
These words were never actually spoken to me, but I felt as if they were because of the way people treated me. I was often forced into very overwhelming sensory environments for school or church and then punished for the way my body responded to them. Because I had so much trouble with chronic sensory meltdowns, everyone assumed I was an ornery brat. In reality, I was just trying to survive the brutal sensory assault. I couldn’t understand why nobody wanted to protect me or help me find peace. Homework and chores were impossible to complete when my heart and mind were racing at full throttle. Having a safe place to decompress was critical to my success. In fact, I can be highly productive for hours on end and do amazing work…in the right environment.
Say this instead: “What can I do to create a safe place for you to relax, focus, find peace, and study?”
If you’re raising a difficult child like I was, I understand your struggle. Well, at least my parents do. We ALL need somebody who cares, even if you can’t fix or change the difficult situation we’re in. Having someone who believes in us, despite our behavior, can carry us a long way.
Words are like seeds that will either help a child bloom and grow into healthy beautiful fruit, or they’ll fester and turn into painful thorns that can choke out our true identity and purpose. Choose your words carefully.