Children are receptive and impressionable as they grow up. Whatever a child is exposed to is usually what they will carry with them throughout life, whether it be for a couple of months, or for a lifetime. It is vital for us, as parents, to be conscious at all times when it comes to what we say to our children. This way, we can avoid our children getting wounded by what we say to them.
The way you speak to your child influences their views of themselves and the world, so it only makes sense that we should speak positively and in a manner that would help them grow in a loving and supportive environment.
However, sometimes it’s easy to slip into repeating things we heard as children, and some of those things might not be healthy for our children to hear. That’s why I created this list of 15 things that are commonly said and that we should avoid saying to our children. I also added examples of what we can do or say instead.
Conscious Parenting Tip – 15 common phrases we need to avoid saying to our children and what we can say instead:
That’s not how you do it. Let me show you.
It can sometimes be tempting for you to want to help your child when something is tough, but you need to give your child the opportunity and time to learn to do it by themselves. When you insist on showing your child, it doesn’t allow them to learn.
Instead, give your child space to figure out what they’re doing. If your child is looking frustrated, you can acknowledge their feelings or describe what is happening. For example: “I see you’re feeling a little frustrated, let’s take a deep breath and try again.”, or “Oh! I see you are working so hard on glueing those pieces together.” Your goal here is to describe what is happening and acknowledge that any feelings they have are valid.
You can also ask your child questions that encourage them to find the answer. For example: “Mmm, how do you think we can fix this?”. If your child is young and needs more guidance, we can guide them with a question like: “Do you think you need some scissors to cut that part of?”
The goal is to encourage your child to problem solve, and not tell them what to do because as they get older, we won’t be always there with them, but the belief that they can figure things out on their own will.
What’s wrong with you?
If this phrase is used when you’re annoyed or angry it becomes a problem. As a parent, if you indicate that something’s wrong with your child – it stays with them and they begin to believe it. A child trusts you and depends on you for everything, so saying this statement to them can be very hurtful and lower their self-esteem.
Instead of saying this, you can be use words that are more specific and in a tone that’s loving. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with your child. Your child is learning, and yes, they might make mistakes, but that doesn’t make them wrong or bad. We can correct the action, discipline our children without making them feel like they’re damaged.
Remove this sentence from your vocabulary and instead ask questions, find out why your child is behaving the way they are because there’s always a reason behind their behavior. Once you know the reason it’s easier to correct the behavior without making your child feel like there’s something wrong with who they are.
I don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills this month.
Even when you’re going through financially difficult times, avoid letting your child in on it. After all, your child is powerless and won’t be able to do anything about it – it would just make them feel anxious. Instead, have the difficult money conversations in private.
We don’t want to raise children with a lack mindset or add onto them unnecessary stress. Financial issues is not something they can fix, it is the parents job to do that.
You can, however, teach your child how to manage money, save, and have a good spending habits. Focus on the positive aspects of financial education, and not on the fear nor lack of money.
I do everything for you!
This phrase isn’t actually literally true, and remember that children take many things literally. When saying this, your child might feel like your life has been un-lived and that they are the cause of it. Your child might also feel like they don’t have a safe place to share their emotions and what they’re feeling.
Your child might end up thinking that you’re selfless and it would be selfish of them to share how they feel with you. Children who hear this learn that their emotions and happiness are less important than their parents’ happiness.
It was our choice to have our children, even if it wasn’t planned. Part of being a parent means we do a lot for our kids but there’s no need to make it seem like they’re a burden. This is one of those phrases that is best to remove from our vocabulary.
Now-a-days we know how important it is to encourage a positive body image. And it’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t judge others nor tie our value to our physical appearance. So don’t make it about your child’s physical appearance.
If your child is obese or overweight, they would benefit from having a lifestyle change in terms of nutrition and getting active. You can make those changes without telling your child that they’re overweight. Calling a child straight out fat is not only hurtful, but it won’t help at all in providing guidance or motivation for your child to lose weight.
It’s also important for your child not to hear you calling others or even yourself fat. Even though you might not be referring directly to your child, your child might perceive that if someone is fat, they are fat too, especially if they think they look similar. Also, by pointing out that you or others are overweight your child might sense that there is something wrong with them.
Avoid making any comments in regards to their physical appearance and the physical appearance of others, especially if those comments are not positive. Read this article with 5 ways to encourage a positive body image in children.
I’m disappointed in you.
When parents get upset they usually say these words to their child, and often times their child is already feeling bad. When you make your child feel like they’re the cause of your disappointment, it only adds on to the pain that they’re feeling.
The reality is that we, the parents, are only responsibly for our own feelings. If you’re feeling disappointed, that’s a feeling YOU need to work on, it is not your child’s burden to carry. It’s important that our children don’t grow feeling responsible for our feelings because this might turn them into people pleasers who struggle setting boundaries as adults.
If you’re feeling upset, take a moment to calm down before talking to your child. You can be upset by something your child did, but you shouldn’t discipline them when you’re upset. Once you have managed your own feelings, you can correct your child’s behaviour and teach them how to do it better next time.
You’re just like your Mother/Father.
This phrase is usually used when your child is having a behavior that you, as a parent, find undesirable. It gives your child the wrong message and makes them feel rejected. It also makes them think there’s something wrong with their parent. These words can also make them choose a side between both parents so that they can please you.
If your child is displaying an unwanted behavior, you can correct this behavior without assigning it as a quality of someone they love. The easiest way to teach your children how to behave is to model the behavior that you want them to display. Be the example they need, and this includes not bashing other people in their life.
Why can’t you be more like your Sister/Brother?
When you use this phrase, it becomes destructive as your child could begin to alienate themselves from their sibling, which can cause an unfavorable home environment. They can also start comparing themselves and thinking something is wrong with them.
It should be acknowledged by you that each child is different, even if they’re raised in the same house and in the same way. Do not compare siblings, and do not compare your child to someone else. We are all unique and different, and we’re all made to thrive in different ways. You can highlight your child’s strengths without comparing them.
As a general rule, simply don’t make any comments that compare your child to anyone.
You’re way better than that kid!
When you say to your child that they’re more special than others, they begin to believe that they are better than other people. If left unchecked this can create entitled kids. Praising kids for being the best teaches them that you value the best and can result in perfectionist kids.
If you want to praise your child, praise the action, praise the process of what they’re doing. But don’t praise them in comparison to someone else. Their own value is not tied to someone else, and when we compare them to others, they might think their value comes from outside.
A great book to learn more about the dangers of praising, comparing and how to raise children with intrinsic motivation is Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.
You can’t do that!
It’s vital to focus on what our children CAN do, rather than what they can’t do. Which is why, when saying a phrase like “you can’t do that!” it makes your child feel like you don’t believe in them, or you feel like others are better than them. This also doesn’t explain to them WHY they can’t do something. When a children understands why they are not allowed to do something, it is easier for them to cooperate with you. Just because you said so, is not a valid excuse. Instead of saying this, explain the why behind it or simply model the behavior you want your child to display.
It’s important for your child to know that they’re loved and that you believe in them with confidence. When talking about things your kids aren’t able to do you can add the word ‘yet’ to the statement. This growth mindset teaches kids that we are always growing and learning.
A really great tool is to point out to your child what they CAN do, or to offer them choices. Listen to this podcast episode on how to offer your child choices instead of saying simply no without a reason.
Also, keep in mind that children hear no A LOT! And children want to explore and discover this world. Here’s a fun way to let your child feel like they have more control over their own lives without breaking your family rules.
You’re stupid! – or any other derogative phrase
I honestly didn’t think parents used this type of language with their children anymore but unfortunately, I have heard parents using derogatory phrases in the heat of the moment. Using a derogatory phrase with your child when you’re frustrated only results in one thing – your child blocking out everything else that’s been said and only focusing on the name you called them. This not only impacts your child’s mood negatively, it also impacts their self-confidence and self-esteem. It also undermines you and your child’s relationship, and the chances of your child doing what you want them to do in the first place reduces significantly.
Do no try to parent or discipline when you’re upset. First, take a moment for yourself, and when you’re calm you can parent your child. Start by acknowledging their feelings and trying to understand why they did what they did. Then correct the behavior by stating facts, not insulting them. The words we use stick with them FOR LIFE. Think about what words you use when talking to your child.
To understand better the long term effect words have on children, listen to this podcast episode: The Power Your Words Have Over Your Children and How to Use Them Wisely.
You’ll never be any different.
As a general word of thumb, avoid using words like you won’t, you always, you’ll never, you can’t – this makes your child feel hopeless because they imply your child will be making this mistake for the rest of their life.
By saying “you’ll never be any different” to your child, it puts them in a box of permanence and negativity. This suggests that your child is always a certain way and is unexpected or incapable of being any better. Children are learning, growing and constantly changing and adapting. They can and will be different throughout their lives. When using words like never, your child basically gets permission to never change – now, this isn’t something that you want.
Remember that a growth mindset is critical to healthy development! Remind your child that they are good person and they can make good choices. Focus on the positive, and the behavior you want them to display.
Leave me alone!
Even when your child drives you up the wall, by constantly telling them to leave you alone could damage and break your child’s way of thinking when it comes to them spending time with you. They end up feeling like there’s no point in talking with you as they begin to internalize the message, and if this becomes a pattern from when they’re young- the chances of your child telling you things when they’re older is low.
Remember that listening to everything your kids say when they are young is laying the groundwork for your communication as a teen and older. If you want a strong connection with your child when they’re teens or adults it starts now, when they’re little.
However, parenting can be overwhelming and there are times we need a break. There is nothing wrong in needing a break and even healthy for our children to see we take care of our emotional health. You can get a break by choosing to use better words than: leave me alone. You can say something like: “I am so tired right now. I need to rest for 15 minutes and then I can help you with that.” This is modeling to your children how they can ask for alone time in an emotionally healthy way. It is also teaching them that all of us sometimes feel overwhelmed and need a pause in our day to recharge.
You live under my roof, you follow my rules.
Using a phrase such as this one is a terrible idea, and on many levels. Your child will either get emotionally disturbed, frightened, or agree with the opportunity to leave. When you say something like that to your child, you abdicate your responsibility. Your child learns to comply out of fear, but not because they understand the why.
We want to raise children who do the right thing because they want to, because they understand, and not because they are scared. Being scared of you doesn’t equal to lessons learned. Instead, explain to your child your home rules and WHY you have these rules. Children are more eager to comply when they understand the why.
Explaining may take more time, but the effects are long term. Here’s more information on why detailed explanation works so well with children.
Don’t be lazy!
If you call your child lazy, don’t expect anything better from them – who gets motivated by being called lazy? And generally, children aren’t lazy, there’s usually an underlying reason that needs to be identified as to why they can’t accomplish what’s expected of them.
Instead, find out why they are acting the way they are. Any type of behavior is a type of communication. Sometimes actions like “being lazy” are trying to communicate to you a bigger problem. Other times it might be that your child is exhausted – let’s face it, we all need a break sometimes.
So, remove lazy from you vocabulary, and next time your child is acting this way, connect with them and find out what is going on.
Phew! That was a huge list of things we shouldn’t say. So, now that you know what NOT to say read these 100+ Powerful, Positive and Encouraging Phrases To Say To Your Child. I even included in that article a free printable of these phrases so you can tape them on a wall and use phrases that your child will benefit from hearing.
Need a little more? If you want to learn more about positive discipline, how to make a positive and long lasting impact on your child, and get them to cooperate, listen to this podcast episode on positive discipline. You can also follow me on Instagram Stories, I share DAILY positive, gentle and conscious parenting tips.