40 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kid
Want well-adjusted children? Ditch these phrases stat.
Parenting is an undeniably difficult job—one that can often push even the most level-headed individuals to their breaking point. Unfortunately, what may seem like an offhanded remark in a heated moment can cause serious emotional repercussions for children down the line. And considering that research suggests that emotional abuse can actually change the structure of our brains, it’s imperative that parents and caregivers start being a whole lot more careful with the language they use around the kids in their lives.
When you want to adopt a healthier, more peaceful approach to parenting, start by cutting these 40 things you should never say to your kid from your vocabulary for good. And when you want to be the best parent you can be, try out these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid!
“You Don’t Feel That Way”
Kids’ feelings are every bit as valid as those of their adult counterparts, although many adults are loath to recognize this as true. However, even if your kid is saying something that you believe to be less than completely true, like, “I hate you,” it’s still important that you don’t try to dismiss what they’ve said they feel.
“‘You don’t feel that way’ is one of the worst things parents can say to their children,” says Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, author of The Food and Feelings Workbook. “Parents should validate children’s feelings even if they don’t agree with them or wish they didn’t feel that way.” And when you want to want to be a better parent, start with the 20 Ways to Be a (Much) Better Father!
While childhood obesity remains a concern in countries around the world, that doesn’t ever excuse a parent calling their child fat as a pejorative. Calling your child fat won’t do anything to motivate them to lose weight, but can be a catalyst for serious emotional issues, including eating disorders, in the future.
If you want to make your child healthier, teach them how to prepare nutritious food and get regular exercise with them, but skip the name-calling. And for a look at the lighter side of parenting, check out The 30 Funniest Tweets About Parenting!
Have you ever been told to stop crying? Did it ever work? When you tell a child to stop crying, you’re making them not only feel bad for whatever made them start crying in the first place, but also their tearful response to it. And for more secrets of the parenting world, check out these 30 Things Only Moms With Daughters Know!
“I Could Do That When I Was Your Age”
While it’s always nice to feel like you can pass on your skills and passions to the next generation, telling your kids that they’re failing to meet your personal milestones can be harmful in the long run. Kids all develop at different rates, and expecting that yours will be on the same timeline as you will only make them feel like they’ve disappointed you if they miss the mark. And for some family-friendly humor, turn to the 50 Jokes from Children That Are Crazy Funny.
“Be a Big Girl/Big Boy”
Emotional maturity is both a skill and something that tends to develop with age, and not one that can be coaxed out of a kid before they’re ready. Unfortunately, telling a child to be a “big boy” or “big girl” assumes that it’s something they can turn on or off at the drop of the hat, and generally in already emotionally-heightened situations. And for more parenting advice, check out The Secret to Raising Healthy Kids!
“Why Didn’t You Get an A?”
If you’ve never asked your middle-manager friend why they’re not a CEO yet, it seems a little silly to ask a kid why they got a B instead of an A. While it’s fine to suggest that your child prepare better for future tests, asking them why they didn’t do perfectly is anything but motivational. And when you want to be a better role model, start with the 20 Ways to Be a (Much) Better Mother.
While children may exhibit a host of behaviors that come across as selfish, hearing that they’re selfish from a parent can have some damaging effects in the long run. If you tell a child they’re selfish, it seems as though it’s an unfixable character flaw, rather than a behavior they’re exhibiting at the moment.
Try working on their sharing skills and discuss how other people might feel in response to their allegedly “selfish” behavior instead. And when you want to raise more generous kids, this is How to Avoid Spoiling Your Child.
“You Don’t Mean That”
Hearing your kid tell you they hate their teachers, call themselves stupid for getting a bad grade, or say that they’d rather live on the streets than in your house can be tough. However, you shouldn’t ever let the words “you don’t mean that” pass your lips.
“‘You don’t mean that’ is another way of being invalidating that is damaging to a child connecting to his or her feelings,” says Koenig. And for more insight into childhood behavior, check out the 15 Dead Giveaways You’re Dealing With An Only Child.
“Don’t Be a Wimp”
We’d all like our kids to grow up to be strong, smart, and independent. However, trying to toughen them up by telling them not to be a “wimp” is no way to do it. Instead, all you’ll do is damage their self-esteem when what they really need is a boost. And for more parenting inspiration, check out these 11 Leading Men Who Happily Embraced Fatherhood Later in Life!
“My House, My Rules”
Of course, if you’re paying the bills, you should have plenty of control over what goes in your home. Unfortunately, simply saying, “My house, my rules,” without further explanation will only serve to shut down communication between you and your kids. If you want to make sure your kids know what your policies are and have them listen, you’d be well-advised to back them up with solid reasoning. And to find out more about your kid’s behavior, discover the 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For.
“You’re Making Me Sad”
Do parents sometimes feel sad because of something their child has said or done? Sure. However, this statement makes a child feel responsible for their parents’ happiness, putting an unfair burden on them in the process.
“That Happened to Me and I’m Okay”
Yes, some people have terrible childhoods and still turn out to be decent adults. However, this statement is all too often used to justify abusive behavior. At the very least, it tells children that you expect them to react the same way you did to a situation, setting a standard that’s nearly impossible to live up to.
“Why Can’t You Be More Like Your Sibling?”
Sibling rivalry is just another part of growing up in many families. However, when parents ask their children why they’re not more like their sibling, it fosters this often-unhealthy competition and can make a kid feel like nothing they do is good enough.
While it may feel like telling your kid they’re perfect is a good thing, it can backfire. Even if your kid gets straight As, is a model, and has never uttered an unkind word, telling them they’re perfect can lead to devastation when they feel like they’ve fallen short of the mark.
It’s only natural for a parent to try to calm their child down during a period of heightened emotion. Telling them to stop overreacting isn’t the way to do it. While your kid’s behavior may seem like an overreaction to you, they clearly don’t see things that way. Instead, try to talk through what they’re feeling and find out why whatever is happening seems like such a big deal.
“You’re the Man of the House”
We tend to put an unnecessary burden on boys to grow up and act like men, even when they’re very young. Telling a boy that he’s “the man of the house” only reinforces this idea, and can cause undue stress.
Saying “you’re okay” when someone is hurt or crying can often feel like an automatic response. However, whenever possible, avoid uttering this phrase to your kids: doing so diminishes their actual experience, demonstrating that you’re prioritizing calm above all else.
“Be a Good Girl”
The concept of the “good girl” is pretty deeply ingrained in our culture. Unfortunately, when you tell a child to be a “good girl,” you’re reinforcing this construct, which hinges upon a lot of unrealistic and outdated expectations of girls and women.
“I Can’t Say No to That Face”
It may be hard to deny your kids the toys and privileges they ask for because you love them so much. However, as an adult whose job it is to set boundaries, telling your kids that it’s impossible for you to say no to them can set them up for some seriously impossible expectations in the future.
“All of Your Stuff is Mine”
While yes, it’s probably true that you bought the majority of your child’s possessions, telling them that they don’t actually own anything be pretty traumatizing. The idea that you can and will take away their prized possessions on a whim can make any kid feel pretty insecure, if not afraid.
Do kids act lazy from time to time? Sure. However, telling a kid that they are just inherently lazy will only make them feel like there’s nothing they can do to change that.
“Finish Your Food”
Of course, you don’t want your kids to waste food. That said, enforcing the “clean plate club” rule at your house can make it difficult for your kid to know the difference between being satisfied and being stuffed, setting the stage for bad eating habits later in life.
“That’s Not Good Enough”
Parents will undoubtedly find themselves disappointed in their child’s behavior from time to time. However, telling a kid that what they’re doing simply isn’t good enough won’t do anything to motivate them, especially when they’ve already tried their best.
“Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself”
Since when is repeating yourself the worst fate a parent could encounter? Telling your kids that you don’t want to repeat yourself is little more than a veiled threat, and not one that’s likely to command better behavior in the future.
If you’re a parent, there will probably be thousands of instances in which your kid forgets to say “please” or “thank you.” However, calling them ungrateful as a blanket descriptor of their behavior will make them feel bad about themselves without giving them any guidance as to how to change. Instead, make it clear to your kids why gratitude is so important, and how they can better express it.
“You’re the Most Beautiful”
Praising kids on their looks can be a slippery slope. While, in an image-focused society, never saying anything about your child’s looks may feel unrealistic, telling them they’re the most beautiful can set a standard that’s impossible to live up to, as well as making your kid equate their self-worth with their looks.
“Stop Acting Like a Baby”
Generally uttered in moments of extreme frustration, telling your child to “stop acting like a baby” won’t actually do anything to help them change their behavior. Kids are emotional beings, and just like adults, sometimes aren’t in total control of their feelings, acting immature as a result. Instead, try talking to your kid about why they’re feeling a certain way and how you can help them work through it.
“You Can Do Better”
It’s nice to imagine that your kids will always do things perfectly. However, most parents know that’s virtually impossible to actually achieve. Sometimes, even when kids try their hardest, they don’t do things as well as others had hoped, and it’s important to be understanding when that happens.
“Practice Makes Perfect”
In a similar vein to “you can do better,” “practice makes perfect” sets up unrealistic expectations for kids. While practice does tend to make people better, most kids aren’t going to become prodigies just because you made them play the violin until their fingers bled.
“I’m Mad at You”
Yes, parents will get mad at their kids from time to time. However, it’s important that parents keep their cool whenever possible and avoid saying things like, “I’m mad at you,” which can make the child feel responsible for that adult’s feelings. Instead, try to distance the behavior from who your child is as a person, discuss how you’re feeling in response to that particular behavior, and how you can both work to a more peaceful resolution.
“I Do Everything For You”
Even if you are your kid’s primary caregiver, odds are you don’t do everything for them. And unfortunately, telling them that you do will only make them feel both indebted to you and resentful at the same time.
“I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed”
It’s natural to feel disappointed in your children from time to time. However, telling them that you’re disappointed as an alternative to being mad doesn’t provide them a clear solution as to how they could do better, but does make them feel responsible for your feelings.
“You’re Doing That Wrong”
While you may be eager to guide your kids to do things correctly, telling them that they’re simply doing things wrong won’t be much help. Letting your kids try and fail is a major part of the learning process, after all.
“Do I Look Fat?”
Many of our food and body image issues start as children, and often because of the example our parents set for us. By asking your child if you look fat, you’re not only making it clear that being fat is inherently bad, you’re also looking to them for validation in a way that’s unhealthy for both parties.
“You Should Be Ashamed”
No matter what kind of parent you are, your kid is bound to feel shame from time to time. Insisting that they feel it, however, rather than simply explaining why their behavior was harmful and offering a remedy, will only make them feel bad and increase their chances of acting out in the future.
“Because I Said So”
Of course, it can be a drag explaining yourself to your children a thousand times. That said, telling them that something is true simply because you said so doesn’t provide them any real incentive to follow your rules. Whenever possible, give them an explanation for why you made that rule in the first place instead.
When you’re dealing with someone who’s upset, it’s natural that you’d want to de-escalate the situation. The bad news? Telling someone to calm down won’t actually accomplish that goal, and, in many cases, can make things worse.
“I’ll Give You Something to Cry About”
Frustration and parenting go hand-in-hand. However, telling your kid that you’ll give them something to cry about when they’re upset is emotionally abusive behavior, plain and simple.
“You’re Just Like Your Mother/Father”
Having a contentious relationship with your child’s parent is undeniably difficult. However, even when they’re exhibiting behavior that gets on your last nerve, badmouthing their other parent is never the solution, and is likely to make both parent and child pretty upset with you.
“I Wish You’d Never Been Born”
No matter how frustrated you are with your child, it’s never acceptable to tell them that you wish they’d never been born. “‘I wish you’d never been born'” is something parents should never, ever say to their children,” says Koenig. “I’ve known clients who’ve been told this and were scarred for life by the remark.” When you’re feeling frustrated enough to say something this hurtful, simply remove yourself from the situation until you’ve cooled down enough to respond in a more level-headed manner. And when you want to be a more peaceful parent, start with the 30 Easy Ways to Fight Stress!
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