An angry outburst directed at a child can be more damaging than you might think. Kids need positive encouragement and help in identifying and dealing with their emotions as they grow and develop. Take a closer look at what you say to the children in your life. If you find any of these five common phrases, consider working to change them and to use more positive ways to get the results you desire. The better we do as parents and caregivers, the greater these children’s futures will be as they learn to treat others with respect and kindness.
5 Things You Should Never Say to a Child
1. “If you eat this, you get dessert”
As parents struggle to teach children a healthy way of living, this is one of the phrases that can cause some setbacks. Making kids eat their vegetables before they get the sweet stuff makes vegetables seem like the “bad guy” in the equation, and that’s probably the opposite of what you want. Don’t use healthy foods as a bribe. Consider serving dessert with dinner. Doing so could take some of the emphasis off the dessert itself and put the focus back on the meal as a whole.
2. “Because I said so”
You may remember this one from your own parents’ repertoire, and maybe you also remember how frustrating it could be? Your kids are much more likely to drop an issue, or at least be more accepting, if you really do your best to give a real explanation. And making a commitment to do so may also make you more thoughtful when it comes to responding to your kids’ questions. If your son wants to know why he has to wear his seatbelt or your daughter asks why you want her to eat her green beans, think about it. Be honest. Do some research together if necessary. They may still have questions, but you’ve got science and the law on your side!
3. “Don’t cry” or “You’re okay”
Kids have emotions. They feel them and are honest about them, and it’s healthy for them to express those emotions in different ways as they go through different phases of development. When we say these things, it tends to be because we are uncomfortable with the way their emotions are displaying or because we don’t want others to be uncomfortable. But saying “You’re okay” does not make their hurt go away. Try to look at things from their perspective – if you fall and get hurt, do you want someone to tell you you’re okay, or do you want someone to help you up and talk through the pain with you? The healthy emotional development of our children is based on our reactions to these small situations.
4. “We don’t talk about ____ in this house”
This phrase can turn the most normal of things (like bodily functions, race, or sex) into taboo subjects. If you want your kids to come to you when they have problems in these areas, you’re going to have to answer their questions and address the issues without passing judgment or making them feel ashamed. Instead, you can just answer them by speaking on their level. You don’t have to go into great detail, but don’t tell stories, as you’ll likely wind up retracting them later in your child’s life. If it’s a matter of manners, simply teaching kids that it’s more polite to say “excuse me” or to keep bathroom matters private can be much more effective.
5. “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do that?”
It can be easy to blurt out these questions when a child acts out or makes a mess. But the shame we place on them when they make an honest mistake can affect their willingness to approach us with greater concerns later on. Depending on the child’s age, the skills to deal with their emotions and mistakes may not be there. It is important in any situation to identify the feelings, the behaviors that occurred, and reinforce positive ideas. If an older sister hits a little brother, it may be appropriate to say, “I can see that you’re angry because your brother took your toy, but it’s not okay to hit. Hitting hurts.” Afterward, you can help sister ask brother to give the toy back and help him to do so. It may also be a good idea when an accident occurs to identify it as such – like when a child tips their cup over at dinner. “It’s okay, sometimes I spill too,” is a simple way to let your child know that these things happen and the best thing they can do is to help with the cleanup.
Remember that children are people too, and the things we say matter. We can be their greatest role models and guide them each day by learning what to say and what to do when it comes to emotions, mistakes, and daily choices.
Kayla Lilly is a photographer, writer, wife, and mama making a house a home in eastern Idaho. She met her mister while working at an amusement park and married him a year later after deciding there was no way to live without him. The amusement has continued as they’ve added three kids and a passel of pets to their lives while finishing college and starting a photography business. Drawing inspiration from the whirlwinds of marriage, parenthood, and the media, Kayla blogs at Utterly Inexperienced, and spends the rest of her time chasing chickens, organizing junk drawers, diapering toddlers, and photographing everyone willing to step in front of her lens.