1. Speak No Evil
There are a handful of obviously wrong, damaging and terrible things to say to a child (like “I wish I never had you”), but it may surprise you to discover that some seemingly harmless phrases can trigger resentment, dent self-esteem, or bring up other less-than-desirable sentiments in your kids. Here are 10 phrases you should think twice about before repeating to your children.
2. Try, Try Again
I know you can try harder. Frustrated by a daughter who you know is capable of much more in school, sports, music, etc.? Any comment that makes it seem as though you’re not satisfied with her efforts can not only be discouraging to your child, but can also do the opposite of motivating her to try harder, says Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of “If I Have to Tell You One More Time.” If your “try harder” has to do with tasks or chores, then be clear about what you expect: “When you have your room cleaned up, then you can go out and play.”
3. Food Matters
Are you sure you need that second cupcake? You’re better off steering clear of any talk that might foster a negative body image, says McCready. Incidentally, the same goes for telling your child that he’s a “great” eater. Try to avoid labels (like “he’s my picky child”), because “you never want to turn food into a power issue,” says McCready. Instead, keep food-related comments specific and positive: “Wow, I see you tried the squash soup!”
4. Absolutely Wrong
You always… or You never… “At the heart of these statements are labels that can stick for life,” says Jenn Berman, Ph.D. and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. “Telling your child that he ‘always’ forgets to call makes him more likely to be the kid who, you guessed it, never calls.” Instead, ask your child how you can help him or her change: “I notice you seem to have trouble remembering to bring home your textbooks. What can we do to try to help?”
5. Beyond Reason
Because I said so! This phrase puts all the control in your hands, and dismisses your child’s growing sense of autonomy and ability to figure things out, says Berman. It also leaves out a potential teaching moment. Let’s say your kids don’t want to visit their aging great-aunt on a sunny day when they’d rather play. Instead of “Because I said so” try, “I know you’d rather ride your bike, but Aunt Clara really loves seeing you, and we try our best to honor our family.”
6. Told You So
I told you waiting until the last minute was a mistake! You’ve repeatedly told your son that if he played video games all afternoon, then he’d have less time to study for the math test. And guess what? Unprepared, he didn’t do well on the exam. But saying “I told you so” tells your child that you’re always right and that, by contrast, he’s wrong, says McCready. Instead, point out positive outcomes when he follows through, says McCready. If he cleans his room when asked, say, “Isn’t it easier to find all your stuff when your room’s tidy?” This puts the control and the credit with him.
7. You’re the best at soccer!
“Say you always tell your child how smart she is. She may, over time, become scared of trying new things or more challenging work, for fear she won’t be ‘smart’ anymore if she gets a B instead of an A,” says McCready. It can also backfire if your child is struggling with work and you say, “But you’re so smart!” She may only feel worse for not living up to the label you’ve given her. Focus instead on her hard work: “You show up to every practice and try your best” or “What a fantastic job you did on this science project!” There are a handful of obviously wrong, damaging and terrible things to say to a child (like “I wish I never had you”), but it may surprise you to discover that some seemingly harmless phrases can trigger resentment, dent self-esteem, or bring up other less-than-desirable sentiments in your kids. Here are 10 phrases you should think twice about before repeating to your children.
8. Smooth Over
Don’t worry — the first day of school will be fine. What’s wrong with trying to soothe an anxious kid out of worry? “If you tell your child not to worry, then you’re dismissing her feelings,” says Berman. “So now she’s still worried about the first day of school, and she’s worried that she’s worried, or that you’re upset over her worry.” Same goes for “Don’t cry” and “Don’t be angry.” Instead, say, “I can see you’re worried. Can you tell me what you’re most concerned about, so we can talk about it?”
9. Pal Around
I wish you didn’t hang out with Jack; I don’t like that kid. Yeah, a lot of parents don’t like “that kid,” for whatever reason, but “the moment you tell your child that ‘that kid’ is not your favorite, he becomes more appealing,” says Berman. Keep the lines of communication open between you two to hopefully spark discussion about values, right and wrong, and so on. “Ask your child some open-ended questions,” says Berman. “Such as, ‘What do you like about hanging out with Jack?’ ‘What do you guys do?'”
10. Spare The Compare
Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother? Siblings and rivalry go hand in hand — and anything you say that sets up comparisons only fuels that natural flame, says McCready. “Comparisons slot siblings into categories — the smart one, the athlete — and discourage kids from trying the thing their sibling is ‘good’ at.” Try instead to encourage each child in whatever pursuits are “his” or “hers,” while avoiding comparisons.