Our children are always listening (except, of course, when they aren't). Most of the time, when we think they aren't paying attention — like when we are chatting with our partners while making dinner, or gossiping with other parents at playdates — we have a little audience, absorbing and internalizing our words. With that in mind, we probably should pause before saying things about other kids when ours are present.
Sometimes the things we say when we think our kids aren't paying attention come back to bite us in embarrassing ways, but that isn't the worst part of it. The beauty of children is that they are born judgement-free. The insecurities, the negative feelings about themselves and others: those things mostly come from us (the parents) and our children's environments.
So when our kids hear us talk about their peers, it is highly likely that they are all ears, or at the very least, taking in parts of what we are saying in some small way. Even though it is a little bit of a bummer and a little extra work, there are a lot of good reasons to try to actively filter our conversations around our kids, particularly when it comes to talking about their friends. Think of the children, people!
This morning, my kindergartner asked his little brother (who is still preschool-aged) which kindergartner teacher he would hope to have when he gets to go to his school one day. He gave his brother a list of about five choices, and when my younger son made his decision, my 5-year-old son said, "Well, that's the class for kids that are a little hard to handle."
I was like, "Where did you hear that?" He smiled, a little embarrassed, and said, "You said that." Lesson learned. I don't remember when I let that nugget loose, but I wish I could take it back. I am horrified and don't know who else he might have shared it with. Never again, dear reader. Never again.
We may think our kids aren't listening, but guess what? We are their favorite TV show, podcast, and Youtube channel all rolled into one. Any time we might be joking with a mom friend about a little girl who is so gorgeous she should be a child model, or how there's a boy in class who could probably lay off the cookies, we are passing our own judgements about aesthetics and superficial standards of beauty and self worth that our innocent children just don't need in their beautiful minds and hearts.
Plus, it isn't beyond them to go tell it on the mountain (i.e. to everyone at school) exactly what they heard mom say the next day, either.
Rather than dropping not-so-helpful passive comments about how a schoolmate is at a more advanced reading level than your kid, hoping that that might inspire your child to read more than just one book from his take-home "book baggie" (hint: it won't), it is usually better to try positive reinforcement.
Major landmine here, so avoid at all costs. It may be the hot gossip to discuss with your Mom Friend BFF how a classmate seems to be going home to a different zip code a couple days a week all-of-a-sudden, but it also will be hot gossip that your kid will pick up on, too. Other people's marriages are not kid-friendly topics of conversation.
My son once asked me why my friend's kid's dad wasn't at the child's birthday party, and I did my best to explain the concept of a marital separation to his 5-year-old brain. I have a tendency to give my children more information than is necessary at times because I get fooled into thinking my children are near-geniuses (even though one of them still can't pee into a toilet and the other one can't live without a pacifier in his mouth). Cue the car-ride home with my friend and her son, and my child asking her, "So your family works better this way," with the kid's dad living in "a different house?" I'm lucky she is one of my closest friends.
You thought it would be all cool to mention to your partner the 6,000-square-foot apartment styled by a celebrity interior designer that you had the pleasure of hanging out in that afternoon for the playdate after school that day. Then the two of you decided to do some math at the dinner table, figuring out the salaries of our kid's friend's parents, and perhaps made some not-so-nice comments about their line of work. Then you realized that someone pint-sized was also listening. Let's just say it will be a while before you set up another play date with that particular friend.
Sigh. Just don't do it. For the love of all things holy, don't.
For some, gender is a topic for which society has created traditional standards and expectations. But if your child hasn't commented on or asked you questions about where another child appears to identify on the gender spectrum, then you shouldn't draw focus to it either.
My younger son, for example, loves to dress up as a princess. His older brother fully supports him, and doesn't think there's anything strange about his brother wearing a princess dress to play in the park or to go to lunch. While my kindergartner wouldn't be so gung-ho to join his brother in dress-wearing outside of the house (that's his preference and he is allowed that), he volunteers to dress up when the two of them are at home to join in the play. Still, he's never once asked us why his brother likes to be a princess, or made a comment to us about how "dresses are for girls". It hasn't crossed his mind as a thing. And we are careful not to let judgements from other family members filter down to either of our kids, lest they absorb any part of them internally or wield them upon others.