It goes without saying that at some point, you’re going to say the wrong thing to your child. It could be an off-handed comment you make while you’re upset that you thought wasn’t a big deal or something that came out wrong in the heat of the moment. Bottom line: It happens! Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Still, when possible, it is best to avoid saying something damaging, even if it comes from a good place. So we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you should never say to your child. The following 10 phrases are common, and therefore it can be tempting and almost-to-easy to use them when giving feedback to your child. But these phrases can cause problems too, so consider finding different ways of expressing the message. Your child will thank you.
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10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child
With that said, there are certain things that experts agree you should steer clear from, including:
It’s not that you shouldn’t praise your child, but it’s best to be specific when doing so, rather than offering blanket statements. Instead of saying a general “good job” when they do something well, ask them how they accomplished the task or tell them what you liked about the behavior. For example, say, “you did a great job sharing with your brother today so that he could have a turn,” rather than using a blanket statement.
Just like adults, kids have all sorts of emotions that they need to let out. Give them space to feel their feelings and then move past them, whether it’s crying, anger, or frustration. In the long run, it will help them be able to better process emotions as they get older. All “stop crying” tells your kid is that crying is bad, which isn’t true.
“If You Finish Dinner, You’ll Get to Eat Dessert.“
Don’t make food a reward system. Let your children explore food and eliminate the urge to say something like, “if you eat all your vegetables, you can have a cookie after.” By doing so, you highlight “good” and “bad” foods rather than teaching your children to eat a variety of things, including delicious cookies.
“Because I Said So”
Perhaps the most clichéd saying on the list, but one that we don’t recommend leaning on when conversing with your child. When they’re not doing what’s asked of them, it’s very frustrating, but rather than saying this, try providing more detail about the situation and why you need them to a certain thing, leave the house at a certain time, etc.
“Come Here, NOW!”
When you’re trying to get ready for work and your child shows no signs of hustling, it can be extremely frustrating. Instead of demanding that they come immediately, try giving them the option of taking a couple of minutes to complete what they’re doing before you head out the door. Giving them some autonomy will help them to better respond to your requests moving forward.
“You’re Too Young to Talk About That“
Kids pick up on many things, including adult conversations about everything from politics and finances to sex. If your child brings up something from a more adult conversation, try to provide them a bit of age-appropriate information about what you were discussing and why. It lets them know that moving forward, you’re there for them when they want to discuss things. And in the age of the internet, do you really want your kids trying to find answers to complicated questions themselves?
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“Here, I’ll Do It“
It’s hard to watch your child struggle to complete something, but it’s important to give them time to learn how to accomplish tasks both big and small. Rather than just taking over, work together to finish what your child is working on or provide them guidance and help them do it on their own. This is an important life skill that requires a lot of practice.
“I’m Ashamed of You“
In the heat of the moment, you might let something like this slip out, but it’s too harsh. Everyone makes mistakes and rather than saying you’re ashamed or embarrassed, tell them what you didn’t like about the behavior and why. Most importantly, be sure to let them know you love them no matter what.
“Wait Until Your Father/Mother Gets Home“
When you’re going head-to-head during an argument, it’s easy to feel stuck and rely on the classic, “wait until your father or mother gets home!” This sets up a dynamic, though, of your child knowing you rely on their mother or father as the authoritative figure. Instead, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away and take a moment before going back to address the issue.
“Why Can’t You Be More Like X?”
Comparing yourself to someone else never feels great and the same is true for your child. Focus on what makes your child unique and special and, if there are things you’d like them to work on, you can discuss that with them rather than comparing them to someone else. Phrases like this set up unrealistic expectations (for kids and adults both) and creates competition where competition perhaps should not exist.
As a parent, no one expects you to say exactly the right thing all the time. But keeping the above in mind when you’re having conversations with your children will help keep the peace, build their self-confidence, and build a strong relationship between you and your child.
When I’m not hanging out with my three-year-old and husband in Brooklyn, I’m busy writing stories for Mamas Uncut and managing PR + Marketing for Magnolia Bakery, based in New York City. On weekends, you can usually find me at a local park or playground pushing my daughter on the swings, “researching” the best almond croissants in Park Slope or launching into impromptu family dance parties at home, the sidewalk or, every once in awhile, a restaurant bathroom. I’m still trying to master the whole parenting thing, but I have learned that copious amounts of coffee, humor and humility are involved on a daily basis.