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Beware of the "I Told You So" Tendency!

I don’t know about you, but whenever I made a mistake growing up I usually heard “I told you so.” While that certainly might have been true, it didn’t help lessen the pain or sadness I experienced from the mistake. When we make a mistake, we all learn naturally from the consequences. It really isn’t necessary or instructive to tell a mistaken child that he was warned in advance. Instead, shaming the child, which is what saying “I told you so” does, teaches the child to try to hide mistakes or to downplay his or her personal experience of sadness, shame or regret when experiencing a mistake. That isn’t what we want for mental health, though.

For mental health, one must let out and process emotions, not bottle them up or deny them. As I was working on blog ideas, my youngest called out from the bathroom. He had accidentally soiled himself. He was really upset so I got to him as quick as I could. I took a deep breath and then took on my attachment role of partnering with him in distress. “Uh, oh! You didn’t make it to the potty in time. We can fix this. We can clean it up. I will help you.” Did I think to myself about what a bother it was? Yes, but I kept that to myself.

But wait, didn’t I say just one paragraph ago that for mental health, one must let out and process emotions, not bottle them up or deny them? Yes, I did and I meant it, but as a parent we must do so judiciously. When it comes to young children who make a mistake, we must be sensitive to how the naturally occurring consequence of their mistake is in itself overwhelming and take care to be emotionally present to support the child in their distress. Save letting out and processing your feelings for a little bit later, in a diary or to a friend but not in earshot of your child. Try to not be the “I told you so” parent for the betterment of your child’s mental health and your relationship.

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