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Things You Should Never Say to Your Children (and Why)

min read

By Kristin Whittaker

As parents our children look up to us and absorb everything we say. Parents are children’s biggest teachers as they learn how to navigate through life. A child’s brain can learn and adapt quickly, therefore, phrases we say can be copied by children, can be misunderstood and can be internalized for life. Most of the time parents mean no harm when they say these things. However, it’s important that we are aware of how some words that we say to our children can have negative consequences in their behavior and development. Here are 16 things that you should never say to your children.

16. “Hurry Up”

I’ve quickly learned that telling my kids to hurry up only makes them move slower. But more than that, it’s giving them the message that whatever they are doing is not important. If you are running behind and really need them to get moving, explain to them why it’s important without making them feel like their time doesn’t matter.

Try phrases like “Let’s try to get to school before the bell rings”, “we don’t want to miss the beginning of the show” or “Grandma can’t wait to see you”. They are more likely to get moving if you are giving them something to look forward to and hurry up for. Plus it’s giving them the ability to see that other people’s time matters too. Yelling hurry up is just not going to work well.


15. “Shut Up”

I think this phrase is rude to say to anyone and I don’t allow my kids to say it. When it comes from a parent to a child it is extremely demeaning and immature. You can ask your child to quiet down but there is no need for shut up.

Plus, kids mimic parents so it won’t be long until you are overhearing your kids saying this to others. The words sting and give your kids the message that their voice doesn’t matter.

14. “I’m Fat”, “I’m Ugly” etc.

Talking negatively about yourself in front of your children is not healthy for them to hear or even for you to say. It won’t be long until you hear your child start to repeat those words about themselves. Your child learns from you and mimics you.

As a mom to 3 girls I am always very careful about how I talk about my appearance in front of my kids. I want them to see and hear me talking positively about myself. I want them to see what it’s like to look in the mirror and not say insults. I also don’t want them to feel like they need to defend me by telling me that’s not true.

13. “Stop Crying”

Kids cry and some cry A LOT! It can feel very frustrating for parents when their children are crying excessively, especially if it appears that it’s for no reason. You don’t, however, want to shut down their emotions. Telling them to stop crying could cause them to close themselves off and not feel like you are a safe person to cry in front.

If you are wanting your child to stop crying start by giving them a hug and letting them know that you see they are upset! Use phrases like “I see that you are upset”, “let’s try and use our words” and “I love you but I cannot understand you when you are crying so let’s take a breath and figure it out”. Remember that sometimes kids just don’t know how to express themselves in words and crying is all they know!

12. “Calm Down”

As an adult I can tell you that the words “calm down” have never actually made me calm down. If anything they get me more worked up! It’s the same for children. Telling them to calm down is counterproductive. When they are upset, in that moment, they most likely will not even be able to process the term.

It also undermines their emotions. Simply telling them to calm down is not acknowledging their feelings. Try just holding them and helping them take deep breaths. If they need to be removed from a situation then remove them. Using phrases like “I see you are upset” or “Let’s try taking a deep breath” show that you are aware of their feelings and are wanting to help them.

11. “You’re Fine”

This phrase completely weakens their feelings and will cause them to feel unheard. At that time your child does not feel fine so telling them that their feelings are wrong is not helpful. Try saying something like “we are going to make this better”.

Or take the time to figure out what exactly they are feeling. Even if they seem fine to you, they are obviously doing something that would make you say it. Did they fall and are crying? If they aren’t hurt perhaps they are crying out of embarrassment. If they are upset because their sister hit them maybe it’s because they feel they don’t love them.

10. “Because I Said So”

Who heard this phrase from their parents growing up? I know I swore that I would never use it on my kids and sure enough after the tenth “Why?” I found myself responding with “Because I said so”! I know we want to seem like we have the power and our reasons don’t really matter but the reality is your kids need and want to know why.

Even changing it a little bit to say something like “Because mommy thinks this is the best for you” at least lets them know that you have a reason. In all circumstances though try to explain to your child why you are telling them they can’t do something or need to do something.

9. “Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around…”

A classic statement with many variations! But you know what the problem is with this phrase? Most parents will not actually turn the car around, or pull over, or pretty much follow through with any threat they shout out when they are about to lose their mind.

If you are actually going to say “Don’t make me turn this car around” you better be ready to turn around and head back home if they don’t stop whatever it is they are doing to deserve that threat. Empty threats only let your kid know that they can get away with things.

8. “Wait Until Mommy/Daddy Gets Home”

This lets your child know that you don’t feel like you have enough power to deal with the situation yourself. You are also putting the other parent in the position of being the “bad guy”. While it’s great to be a team as parents you cannot pass everything off to someone who wasn’t even a witness to whatever was happening.

You also don’t want to give your kids the message that they can get away with whatever they want while with you. If something happens when you are in charge you deal with it then instead of making them wait. Or if you feel like you need support use a team statement like “When mommy/daddy gets home we are going to work through this together”.

7. “You’re Just Like…”

Sometimes it can be a wonderful compliment to tell them they are just like a really great person. And sometimes it’s a negative statement meant to be an insult. The problem is, how is comparison benefitting your child?

Using it in a positive way can make a child feel like they need to live up to high expectations. As a negative statement you are comparing your child to someone you think poorly of as a way to cut deep, not only for the child but for the person you are comparing them to. We do not want to associate our children with any negative traits of others.

6. “You Should be More Like…”

Again, this comparison statement is not beneficial to your child. This tells them that you think that person is better than them. It can happen a lot with siblings when parents say “you should be more like your sister/brother”.

It’s ok to encourage positive traits in your children but telling them to be like someone else is not the way to do it. You are creating a competitive environment for them as well, especially if it’s siblings. Guide them gracefully towards the traits that you like in this other person without even referencing someone else.

5. “I’m Disappointed In You”

These crushing words are so hurtful to your child. Perhaps their behavior was disappointing or they didn’t follow a path you wanted them to. Being disappointed in their actions is not necessarily a bad thing.

But when you make your child the disappointment they will feel like a failure. Let them know that you love them the same but are disappointed in their action not them. Or if they have made choices that you don’t agree with let them know it’s their choices and direction they have chosen to go that has disappointed you but not them.

4. “I Told You So”

In my opinion, this is a prideful and juvenile statement. As much as we may have every reason in the world to say this to our child it’s not worth it. Their whole lives they will learn from mistakes and have to deal with consequences. They don’t need it rubbed in their face by an adult.

If you want to make it a teaching moment try making it about what has happened, not that you were right. “Unfortunately that is what happens when you do that” or “I hope you can understand why that wasn’t a great decision”. We all like to be right, but our children are probably already aware that you are right and don’t need it thrown at them.

3. “Don’t Tell Your Mom/Dad”

Unless you are planning a special surprise party or gift for the other parent it is never ok to ask your children to keep a secret. This can create a huge burden for children and will make them feel like they are caught in the middle and have to choose a side. If they let the secret slip they will then feel like they let you down.

It also undermines the other parent’s authority, especially if you are allowing your child to do something they didn’t want them to. As parents you need to appear as a team, even if you aren’t together. You wouldn’t want it reversed where your kids are keeping a secret from you!

2. “Leave Me Alone”

I’m an introvert so I definitely understand the need for alone time. Especially when I have four kids asking for something when I just want to pee in peace. But we want to choose our words wisely so they don’t imply that our children’s needs do not matter.

It’s ok to need time alone or to need to finish up what you are in the middle of doing. Kids also need to understand that people will not always drop everything the moment they need something. Ask them to allow you to finish what you are doing or even tell them that you just need a moment alone and when you are done you are happy to be there for them.

1. “I Can’t Wait For You To Go Back To School”

We’ve probably all seen the commercials or pictures of parents celebrating that it’s back to school time. Summer break or any other break from school can be hard. Maybe the kids are all fighting, or you miss the regular routine or just miss your alone time. But do you know what kids probably hear when you say this phrase?

“Mommy doesn’t like when we are home. She likes it better when we are gone”. I don’t think you are a bad parent for looking forward to your kids returning to school. I personally like the routine and my kids need that break from each other as well. But I never want them to feel like I’d rather be away from them than with them!

Kristin Whittaker




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