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A lot of parents have a tendency to speak to their kids about themselves in the 3rd person… ‘mummy is very happy’, ‘daddy got really mad’, ‘you made mummy upset’, ‘you made daddy really proud’ and so on.

And yet here is the funny thing – NO ONE did this EVER before they had kids! We would never talk to adults this way; I would never say to my husband, ‘Mette is going shopping’…

So let’s start with illeism and what it is? Illiesm is the act of referring to oneself in the third person instead of the first person and is sometimes used in literature as a stylistic device, as a technique to give an additional and/or supplemental meaning, idea, or feeling.  In real-life usage, illeism can reflect a number of different stylistic intentions or involuntary circumstances.

So why do we do it around our kids?

Habits from early on: When our kids were babies we might have done it to help them make the language less complicated and make more sense of the world. So instead of them having to learn about me, she, he, we or a name we just referred to ourselves as mummy or daddy – much more simple and less to learn. So we might find that it simply became a habit after doing it for so long.

See it as a place to hide:  Sometimes we have to get angry at our kids and set rules and boundaries and that is never nice. It can be really hard to do, particularly if we don’t have a strong sense of self-esteem. We might fear we will make our child upset with us for what we need to do and say and referring to ourselves as the third person can act as a form of self-distancing. We psychologically distance ourselves from our own self-centred perspective, meaning that we detach any emotional situations or stress and anger. So using an illeism when we are upset or have to set boundaries is a way of coping with the stress and challenges of that, and stopping children seeing our parenting insecurities.

So basically referring to ourselves as mum or dad gives us confidence as we can detach from any unpleasant emotions that might arise from the situation. Or from any anger that our child might have towards us.

What it does to us when we use the 3rd person:

  • Undermines what we are trying to say: by not referring to ourselves in the 1st person we don’t fully take responsibility for what we have said, e.g., ‘mum will have to take your iPad away now’. It is like we are referring to another person, someone over there – not us, not ME!
  • Less respect: when we don’t take full responsibility and ownership of what we say our child might not take us seriously and lose respect for our authority. He is less likely to follow through with our request and listen to us, and may even laugh at us.

Instead, try to take ownership for what you want to say. Say it as you mean it and be assertive. There is a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. When we are assertive we send a signal that we mean it. We own it and take full responsibility for what we say, ‘I am angry about…’ and so on.

Speaking from a place of the 1st person gives us confidence to be able to say it as we mean it and step up to our parenting values.

Keep calm and safe

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Good luck, Mette Theilmann