“You’re stupid”, “Leave me alone”, “Stop bothering me”. If you say such things to your children, when you are angry with them, you must know that you do them harm. Choose your words more carefully, when you’re communicating with your kids, because it can have a significant impact on their lives.
Throughout the day, we are interrupted a hundred times with requests for snacks, sibling rivalry, shrieks over spilled cereal milk, questions about what sharks feed on, and arguments over whether angels exist.
Still, nothing can excuse our eruptions. You may be angry or upset, trying to balance your parental responsibilities with your other needs and interests. However, in a fit of anger, you may say a phrase that can hurt, frighten or lower your child’s self-esteem. The key is to stay calm and not to say anything you’ll regret later.
Many parents don’t know how to handle their emotional outbursts. They yell at their children without realizing that such incidents may not only negatively affect the upbringing and development of their children, but to impair their relations with them. When we learn to control our emotions, we’ll be able to easily handle such situations and make the atmosphere in our homes more positive. Good parenting allows to instill positive values in children and prepare them for the future.
Let’s consider some of the phrases that should never be told to your children.
1. “Don’t be sad”
Variations: “Don’t cry”. “Don’t be a baby”.
When you deny feelings and emotions of your child, you may embarrass them. When the child is upset, don’t try to repress their emotions, telling things such as “don’t cry” or “don’t get emotional”. This will hinder their development and cause problems later in life. Kids do get upset enough to cry, especially toddlers, who can’t always articulate their feelings with words. Telling your kid not to cry, be sad or be upset won’t rid them from negative feelings but will upset them even more.
For example, when you tell them not to worry during the first days in school, they will worry even more thinking that their emotions aren’t valid. Eventually too many don’ts can negatively affect their emotional wellbeing.
What to do
Try to calm the child: “I see you are worried. Can you tell me what exactly bothers you?” The very fact you sympathize with the child will soothe them and help talk about emotions without feeling frightened.
2. “Don’t do it!”
This phrase, though innocuous at first sight, may be interpreted by your child differently. If you tell your child not to do something, they will do everything possible to prove they can do it.
What to do
If you want your child not to do something, explain to them the real reason for that. Next time your kid wants to touch an electric socket or climb up a bookshelf, instead of shouting, “Don’t you do it!”, tell them that it’s dangerous and they can be hurt.
3. “If you ever do that again…”
Threatening to discipline the child is inefficient. Threats make the child be afraid of you, but not respect. Some parents are so angry with the child they may shout, “If you don’t eat that lunch right now, I’ll get you out of the house!” But will they really do that? No. Therefore, threats are difficult to fulfil and they are unreasonable. In addition, the child may stop believing what you say, and next time you threaten them, they won’t take your words seriously.
What to do
Instead of threatening the child, give them a choice. At the same time tell them what the consequences are for doing things wrong. You can limit them in what they love. For instance, if the child likes computer games, don’t let them play before they promise to be good and keep that promise. The child may be warned, “If you do that, you won’t play computer games for the next two days.”
4. “Great job!”
Variations: “Good girl!” or “Well done!”
Praise and encouragement develop a child’s self-confidence and build their self-esteem. But if you keep on saying “Great job!” for every little thing they do – from washing hands to drawing a picture – praise becomes meaningless. That may keep the child from trying new things: they will be afraid not to meet your expectations. And finally, having been lavishly praised by their parents, kids will expect the same from others. Without getting it, they will feel anger and frustration.
5. “Your dad/mom – …”
You may not like some of the habits or personality traits of your spouse. However, you shouldn’t tell your child about that, because they will be confused. Moreover, your child can think you and your spouse do not get along well and disrespect each other. Don’t forget that your kid should respect both of you, and not just one of the parents. If you belittle your spouse in the child’s presence, they will most likely do likewise.
Divorced parents should particularly follow this rule. Their derogatory statements about each other will distance the child from them. Besides, the child may lose respect for both parents.
What to do
Treat your spouses with respect and take them as they are. Teach your child to respect both the parents. Even if you are divorced, do not put blame on each other. If you don’t speak ill of your spouse, the kid will be grateful to you.
6. “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”
It might seem helpful to hold out a sibling or your friend’s son as a role model. “Look, Sam’s using the potty already, so why can’t you?” But comparisons almost always backfire. Your child is himself/herself, not Bryan or Emma.
It’s normal for us to compare our children, look for shining examples, or refer to milestones or a certain behavior. But make sure your kid doesn’t see you doing it. Every child is unique in their development, character and personality. Comparing them to others means you wish yours were different. Nor does making comparisons help change behavior.
What do to
Instead, encourage their current achievements: “Wow, you tied your shoes all by yourself!” Or “Thank you for telling me your potty needs emptying.”
7. “You are fat / Don’t Eat That Or You’ll Get Fat”
Calling a kid fat doesn’t provide guidance for how to become thinner and just hurts them. Such body labeling and shaming feed into a culture of disordered eating and unhealthy body images.
What to do
When it comes to getting children to eat a healthy diet, focus on the benefits and delicious taste of healthy food, not on negative perceptions of their weight. Commenting at all on weight only worries kids and hurts their self-esteem.
8. “Let Dad/mom come and I’ll tell…”
There can be things your child may do recklessly and inadvertently, and this frequent mistake instils uneasiness and fear of dad, and it shows your inability to handle the situation by yourself.
Postponed discipline doesn’t match the aftermath of the kid’s behavior. By the time dad is home, most probably you and your kid will have forgotten what the misconduct was all about. Successively, the anticipation of a punishment may be worse than the misbehavior itself. Not least, you’re putting your spouse in the undeserved role of a bad cop.
What to do
Let your kid take ownership of his/her actions, but do so with respect. Ask your child, “Do you want me to explain it to your dad and give the reason, or do you want yourself to tell dad?”
9. “If you _____ then I’ll give you _____”
Bribing kids is equally destructive as it discourages them from cooperating simply for the sake of ease and harmony. This kind of exchange can become a slippery slope and if used frequently, you’re bound to have it come back and bite you. “No! I won’t make my bed unless you buy me ice-cream!”
What to do
Instead try, “Thank you so much for helping me clean up!” When we offer our genuine gratitude, children are intrinsically motivated to continue to help. And if your child hasn’t been very helpful lately, remind him of a time when he was. “Remember a few days ago when you helped me take out the trash? That was such a big help. Thanks!” Then allow your child to come to the conclusion that helping out is fun and intrinsically rewarding.
10. “Because I said so”
Wishing to stop arguing with the child, we may say, “Because I said so.” However, it defies the kid’s independence and makes an impression of their feelings being unimportant. Remember that kids have the right to ask questions, learn something new, becoming more engaged and insightful. Without explaining reasons behind your actions, you deprive your child of the opportunity to learn a valuable life lesson.
What to do
Explain your actions or behavior. If your child wants to play instead of joining a family dinner, first acknowledge their right to play, and then explain why spending time with the family is important. Tell the kid everyone will be happy to see him at the dinner table.