The things we say to our children become their inner voices. It’s a lot of pressure knowing our words and actions have the power to uplift or cause profound harm, sometimes even unknowingly.
We’ve all said something to our child in a moment of stress or frustration, only to regret it immediately.
“All parents do these things sometimes or say them occasionally, but that’s an opportunity to then teach your kids how you learn from your mistakes, how you can grow and change [and] do things differently.”
Being mindful of the things we say is a good first step to raising mentally resilient kids and ensuring they are full of confidence and self-esteem. Here are a few phrases you may want to avoid saying to your child and what you can do instead.
9 Things to Never Say to Your Child
1. “Calm down!” or “Stop Crying!”
How many of us have said this to our kids during a meltdown?
Unfortunately, not only does uttering a phrase like this lack empathy, but it also teaches our children to repress or deny their feelings.
As our children bottle up their feelings, they can develop mood problems, such as anxiety or depression.
Avoid telling your child how to feel by instead validating their feelings, letting them know it’s ok to feel how they feel.
You could say something like, “It looks like you’re really upset/angry/frustrated right now.”
Then you could try to slowly engage them in an activity that can calm them down, such as colouring, drawing, walking/running outside, or listening to music. For my little guy, building blocks are his go-to.
2. “Don’t worry about it.”
This phrase is not as helpful as you might think. Just because you tell them to stop worrying doesn’t mean it’ll go away.
Would it help you if someone said that to you as you worry about paying the bills, or meeting a deadline at work?
And remember, just because your little one’s worry may seem trivial to you, it may not be to them.
Instead, try to show them what they can do when worried. Sometimes, simply talking about it can make them feel they’re not alone in their fear.
You can also try asking them what they’d say to a worried friend. Doing this removes them from the situation and allows them to problem-solve.
3. “You’ll do fine,” or “It’ll be ok.”
Trying to be positive for your child is great.
However, when you assure them things will be ok without knowing the outcome, you run the risk of damaging your credibility and hurting their confidence when they don’t get the result they expected.
So, unless you are a fortuneteller, stick to “Do your best,” or “Have fun with it.” And reassure your kiddo that no matter the outcome, you can figure it out together.
4. “Don’t ever let me catch you doing that again!”
This type of phrase is usually uttered in frustration and can easily backfire.
While you do not want your child to engage in bad or dangerous behaviour, you also don’t want them to sneak around to avoid punishment. Nobody is at their best when they feel shamed.
The best course of action here is to encourage them to tell the truth. When they make a mistake, big or small, don’t overreact, remain calm and discuss how you can fix it or make it better.
If you catch them in the act, calmly discuss the dangers of their actions and the possible results. Rely on natural consequences for their actions instead of exacting an elaborate punishment.
5. “You’re the best!” or “That’s perfect!”
There is nothing wrong with praising your child for doing something great.
However, only praising the outcome can lead to perfectionist children who create unrealistic expectations of themselves, leading to anxiety and potentially depression for not measuring up.
Instead, praise the process, effort, creativity, and hard work it took to accomplish something. It’s the journey that’s important, not necessarily the outcome.
6. “You’re making me mad!”
Statements like this can teach children “blame-shifting,” leading them to think they’re not responsible for their actions or emotions.
As Morin puts it,
“We don’t want [children] growing up blaming other people for making them mad, for ruining their day, for causing them to feel horrible all the time.”
Instead, show children the issue is not about them, but their behaviour. Use statements like, “When you do this, I feel that,” or “I don’t like the way you are behaving, here’s what you can do instead.”
That way you teach them emotional regularity.
7. “Because I said so!”
Who hasn’t said this to their kiddo at one point or another? Who didn’t hear it from their parents themselves?
This phrase, often said in frustration, is dismissive of feelings and lacks empathy.
Yes, you may not feel like explaining yourself, but uttering this phrase can leave your child feeling ignored and with no control.
Validating their feelings and offering a simple, age-appropriate explanation should be enough. If they continue to whine or question, set your boundaries and move on.
Avoid getting sucked into a power struggle.
8. “Use your words.”
I think every parent I know has used this phrase, including myself!
The problem with this phrase, however, is that when your child whines or cries, it’s usually because they don’t have the words to express how they feel.
So prompting them to use words they don’t know doesn’t help. To help your child, model the desired behaviour and calmly offer some words or phrases to get them going.
9. “Why are you so lazy?”
Labels can stick with children for a very long time. Pointing out how lazy, weird, or bad your child is will not encourage them to be better. It will only shame them and make them internalise their feelings.
Positive words and supportive language can lead to better behaviour.
Try to find out the root of the problem before casting judgment. Does your child have difficulty knowing where to start with a task? Are there distractions or things in the way of them completing a project?
Digging deeper can help you understand and support your child instead of labelling them.
Remember, being mindful of our words can go a long way in raising mentally resilient kids. And don’t sweat it if you make a mistake – we’ve all muttered a few of the things to never say to your child at some stage. Use it as an opportunity to model how to recover and make things better.
What to read next
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