“Think before you speak”: it’s sage advice for anyone, but indispensable guidance when it comes to parenting. Parents are a child’s first teachers, meaning that what you say, whether it’s loving praise, wisdom passed down to you from your parents, or an angry utterance spoken in the heat of the moment can have an indelible effect on not only their relationship with you, but how they relate to the world as a whole. In fact, research conducted at Ohio State University suggests that children tend to have sharper memories than their adult counterparts, meaning that your less-than-perfect parenting moments might just continue to play fresh in their minds years after the fact.
If you’re eager to raise healthy kids—particularly ones who aren’t afraid to open up to you—it’s important to choose your words wisely. We’ve rounded up the 25 worst things you can say to your kids, from the seemingly complimentary to the surprisingly cruel. And for more ways to up your parenting game, check out these 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For.
“Practice makes perfect.”
Though it is true that practicing any craft inherently makes us better at said craft, preaching this idea of “perfection” to your child can be confusing for them, as they may strive to reach a level of talent that just isn’t achievable for them. I mean, there is a reason why rockstars are paid the big bucks—because, at the end of the day, natural talent allows you to take that extra step to achieve greatness. So, practice doesn’t make perfect—it just makes you better at something. And for more phrases to avoid at all costs, check out these 30 Things No Dad Should Ever Say to Their Kids.
We get it—attempting to gather the troops in the morning to catch the school bus is nearly always stressful, no matter how prepared you feel to face the day. There always seems to be that one thing that goes awry—like that one pair of shoes that they just have to wear, which, of course, is nowhere to be found.
Yelling out this command sends your child into a panic, which in turn only slows them down. Instead of yelling and shouting your way to a more efficient morning routine, wake up early enough to provide ample time for small disasters, and when those disasters inevitably arrive, handle them calmly and your child will do the same.
“Don’t talk to strangers.”
This can be a confusing command for children to understand, since they may take this too far and distrust even those strangers who can help them in dangerous situations, like police officers and firefighters. Instead of using this old adage, train your children to trust their intuition and instincts in situations where they feel in danger or scared. And for more ways to set your kids up for a healthy and happy future, check out these 15 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Be More Mindful.
“Let me help.”
It’s simple, really: if you do everything for your child, they will never learn how to do it on their own. If they don’t ask for help, try to let them figure it out on their own terms.
“I’m on a diet.”
Your unhealthy relationship with food (and your body) will eventually train your kids to regard food in the same manner. Rather than talk about dieting, teach your kids about how great eating healthy and getting the right amount of exercise can make you feel—their body positivity starts with you. And for more on the difficulties of parenting, check out these 20 Biggest Regrets Nearly Every Parent Has.
No matter the extent of their injury, even a small scrape can be traumatic for your child, so playing the gruff parent and brushing it off is only going to make the situation worse. In this moment of injury, they want to feel protected and taken care of—and isn’t that your job in the first place?
“You’re driving me crazy!”
Face it: you were already crazy long before you had kids to argue with. So, perhaps stop making your child feel like such a nuisance and try to understand where they’re coming from.
“Why don’t you just quit?”
They hate going to soccer practice, and, at this point, you’re tired of hearing the constant complaints about it. And, even though this sudden disdain for the activity can be relentless and annoying (especially factoring in all of the rainy games you’ve sat through on the bleachers), encouraging your child to quit is not the right way to go about this. Instead, opt for a serious sit-down to talk about why they hate going to practice—perhaps these issues can be easily fixed. Inspire your child to be resilient instead of just quitting when the going gets tough.
“Don’t hurt his/her feelings.”
While you don’t want your kid to be a bully, you also (probably) don’t want to raise a passive, meek person who can’t speak the truth or stand up for themselves when necessary. By uttering this phrase, you encourage your child to be obliging to everyone, which, though it is a nice concept, is not the way we survive in the real world. Teach your children to be kind to others and to themselves.
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
After they grow up and leave the nest, the outside world is full of tests that will shake the foundation of your child and their worth—so you should work to build their confidence while you still can.
“You shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
With this one simple phrase, you are teaching them to invalidate their own feelings. Telling your child that they shouldn’t be feeling certain emotions will only make them second-guess their responses to things in the future. Instead of playing therapist, maybe hire a real one for your child to talk through these matters with.
While, yes, positive reinforcement is key to building your child’s confidence, if used too frequently, it can lose its value and inflate your child’s ego more than is necessary. Save these positive affirmations for times when your child truly deserves it—like getting an A on a test or scoring the winning touchdown at the football game. In fact, give more meaning to this remark by following it up with clear examples of how they attained success, so they know exactly how to achieve it again.
“Leave me alone.”
Sure, sometimes you just want a moment of peace—one without your children vying for your attention. However, telling your children to leave you alone will only make them feel as though you don’t value time spent with them. So, the next time you want a few moments of solitude, just be honest with your children. This way, they don’t take this break from playtime so personally.
“Don’t be so greedy.”
Especially when siblings share toys (and your affection), this phrase has a chance of slipping through your lips. Your aim is to teach them to share their belongings, but, as it turns out, this negative message, when used frequently, can damage your child’s relationship with the concept of greed and fairness. For fear of being too greedy, they may unnecessarily limit their spending and have difficulty placing value on the things they own.
“Who taught you this?”
Even if you’re scolding your child for a bad habit, asking them if they inherited this habit, whether bad or good, is basically communicating to them that you don’t think they’re capable of altering their behavior on their own. Maybe they did learn to whistle on their own—you never know.
“This is not the place for this discussion.”
Some parents have the gumption to reprimand their children in public, but you have saved that awkward exchange for a place with far fewer spectators. Regardless, threatening your child with this retort will only force their brain to associate your home with this tense exchanges, forgoing any sense of peace and serenity that they felt in the space before. Instead of making the home the place of punishment, simply communicate the issue to your child right on the spot, rather than forcing them to wait and agonize over what will happen once you arrive at home.
“You’re too young to ask these questions.”
For a certain amount of time (before the withering teenage silence), children are full of questions about almost everything under the sun—and they expect you to have all of the answers. While this incessant curiosity can sometimes bring up more adult issues that you’re comfortable delving into just yet, it is still a good practice to answer these questions the best that you can. Even if you don’t feel at all comfortable discussing the birds and the bees with your three-year-old, at least ensure them that you will divulge the answers they’re craving when they’re (much) older.
“Stop being so bossy.”
While this one can apply to both genders, it’s a phrase that can be especially harmful to females. Reprimanding your daughter for being too bossy is one thing, but it’s whole other issue if you’re constantly telling her to stop being assertive. I mean, she already has so many more obstacles in her path than that of her male counterparts—so why convince her to be less tenacious and outspoken when these traits can only help her achieve greatness further down the line?
“You’re a liar.”
Even if they did lie about something, this accusatory tone is only going to make your child feel like you are personally attacking them. Instead of being accusatory, find out why they felt the need to lie and have an open discussion about why it’s not okay to do so.
“You’re a princess.”
Yes, your daughter may be perfect in your eyes, but treating her like a diva or princess will only give her a false confidence that will quickly deteriorate when she flies the coop. Sure, it’s perfectly acceptable as a cute nickname, but you still need to ensure that, though she is the center of your universe, that she knows that she isn’t the center of the universe in the real world.
“You’re a little heartbreaker.”
This one can apply to both genders, but is perhaps more popularly used to describe boys. When used with enough regularity, this phrase, again, instills a false confidence from a young age that will harm them when they realize that the rest of the world doesn’t bend to his every whim. While it is important to build your child’s confidence, there is a fine line between instilling confidence and promoting egotistical behavior.
“You’re the smartest.”
It certainly isn’t a bad thing to praise your child’s intelligence, but it can be counterproductive in the long run. This is especially the case when parents have a habit of constantly pointing out that their child’s intelligence is superior over others, since children can stop seeing the point of problem-solving and perseverance.
You’ll have them thinking: “If I’m so smart, what is the point of studying for that exam?” In a sneaky way, your praises are teaching your child to discount hard work, which in turn sometimes leads to failure and even an identity crisis that makes them question why they would fail at something if they possess the superior savvy and smarts to achieve success.
“Don’t make me turn the car around.”
Perhaps one of the more terrifying (and empty) threats in the book, this one is set as an ultimatum for those misbehaving in the back seat. Along with any other threat of similar severity, it should only be uttered when you truly mean it. If your kids don’t stop fighting en route to the family dinner, then stick to your guns and head back home. Using empty threats will only tell your children that you don’t mean business, and they will find no reason to heed your future warnings.
“You’re way better than (some other kid).”
While it’s perfectly okay (and normal) to believe that your kid is better than the rest of the rugrats they interact with, it’s not okay for you to encourage them to think that highly of themselves, as well. Instilling a healthy dose of humility into your child will allow them to fare better in the real world and to be better humans in general.
“Because I said so.”
C’mon—this is only the retort you give when you really don’t know why you’re making your child join a soccer team when they would rather just be picking flowers and steering clear of large flying objects. I mean, can you blame them? And for more sound parenting advice, check out these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.
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