During the middle of an argument, it can be easy to say whatever comes to your mind first. Unfortunately, that may not always be the best thing to say your son, especially if you’re focused on telling to be more “manly.”
Kids pick up on things starting at a fairly young age, including messages on gender roles. This can lead to the proliferation of something like “toxic masculinity,” which of course harms girls and women, but also boys and men themselves. When teaching our kids about behavior, it is important not to lean into tropes and language that will encourage them to feel bad about themselves or harm others. And with that in mind, we advise you not use the following 10 phrases when speaking with your sons.
10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Son
Here are some phrases we recommend steering clear of, even during the most heated discussions.
“You’re the Man of the House“
This common phrase is often said to young boys, but it puts way too much responsibility on a young child. Whether there is a man of the house or not, it’s not fair to put that responsibility on your child. It also implies that a house needs a “man” in charge, which is harmful to both men and women in your household.
“Don’t Be Such a Wimp“
Kids are all different and react to things in different ways. Some boys may get upset and cry after getting hurt. That doesn’t make them a wimp, it makes them human. Instead of getting frustrated, talk about how they’re feeling and what you can do to help them feel better. A phrase like this also teaches boys that the most important thing they can do is be strong and not show weakness, which is harmful.
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. This is especially important for boys; they need to know they can cry too, because as they get older, society will make them think they can’t for fear of being seen as “unmanly.”
“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.
“Get Over It“
Kids of all ages get upset and it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and let them process them a bit. Be there for them to discuss how they’re feeling and why so that they can move past them. Don’t tell them to just “get over it,” that sends the message that they shouldn’t be feeling them in the first place and doesn’t give them the space to work through them.
“Go Give Grandma a Hug and Kiss“
It can be instinctual to tell your children to give family members or friends hugs and kisses, but try to curb that instinct. Give your children ownership over their bodies from a young age and give them the choice to give hugs and kisses if and when they’re ready. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t give a polite goodbye when someone leaves, but don’t force them to give hugs and kisses if they don’t want to. This is an early way to start teaching your sons about consent and touching other people’s bodies (and being touched by others).
“You’re So Selfish“
Kids are inherently selfish at many points in their development, but you don’t have to call them out on it. Instead, try to get to the heart of what they’re looking for — do they need a bit more attention, are they feeling bad that a friend got something they’ve been wanting or did they expect something and are disappointed they didn’t get it?
“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.
“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. Boys, like girls, are constantly in danger of unfairly comparing themselves to others, which can lead to mental health and other problems.
“You’re Such a Bonehead“
Your child isn’t going to know everything and there’s no need to call them out when they don’t do something well. Instead, offer to work together as a team to figure out how they can complete the task or do it differently the next time around. There are more constructive ways to offer criticism, and these are important teaching/learning moments.
“Why Didn’t You Make the Team?“
Your son may not end up being a star athlete and that’s OK. Rather than focusing on stereotypical boy activities, focus on what your son is telling or showing you they love to do — it may be sports or music or coding. Celebrate who they are by encouraging them to try different activities.
Keeping the above in mind will help you build a strong, open relationship with your son, even as you have disagreements.
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.
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