Parenting can test our will and patience in ways we never dreamed possible. Unless you’re one of the chosen few who is parenting a mini angel, you may be familiar with lying, sulking, yelling, the stomping of feet, the coloring of walls and (when they get a bit older) the taking of your car without asking and staying out long enough to turn your hair completely grey. There’s a darn good reason everyone says it’s the most difficult and rewarding job you’ll ever have.
You may have found yourself, at some point, in mid-scream about to say something you knew you’d regret. And because you’re only human, there’s a good chance you’ve said it.
What’s done is done and today is a new day to live and learn — parenting experts clued us in on 10 phrases you should never say to your children, no matter how angry, frustrated, or downright frightened out of your mind you get over something they did.
1. “You are so annoying/I don’t like you much right now”
Licensed Therapist Crystal Rice says she hears a lot of well-meaning parents use this phrase as a way to try and curb their child’s obnoxious behaviors. The problem is: Kids aren’t always hearing every word we say and will often cling to those that hurt most. “Children will remove the ‘right now’ and hear only that the parent finds them intolerable; the line between when they’re ‘likable’ and not becomes too blurred,” Rice says.
2. “Ugh. You’re just like your mother/father.”
If you’re comparing your kid’s amazing creativity or ability to forgive and forget easily with their parent because they both share the same desirable trait, well, that’s one thing. But, Rice says, too often this is said when the child is exhibiting a behavior the parent finds unfavorable in the other parent. “So a child is being a picky eater and you’re frustrated,” Rice says. “So you throw down the fork and exclaim, ‘Ugh, you’re just as picky as your mother.’ This not only sends the message that the child is being rejected, but also the other parent. It creates a divide where a child is forced to identify with or pick a side to please a particular parent, while also modeling poor relationship skills.”
3. “You’re such a picky eater”
Even if your child refuses to eat any food that isn’t brown or coated in sugar, avoid calling him a “picky eater” because the label just might stick and create a situation where he tries to live up to it. “Whether we call a child ‘a math whiz’ or ‘the artist in the family,’ they will strive to become that, and other members of the family reinforce that role for the child,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a parenting and feeding specialist and co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating. “When parents call kids ‘picky eaters’ the child begins to see themselves that way. We want kids to think of themselves differently. All kids are ‘food explorers’ when we teach how to parent in the kitchen. Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time and lots of exploration.”
4. “Your sister is so good at that”
Comparing one of your children to the other really is like comparing two delicious fruits grown on opposite sides of the planet. It never works in motivating one kid to stop an undesirable behavior and creates resentment and a competitive environment. “That sort of comparison is like telling your second husband that your first husband ‘was so good at doing dishes’ and expecting him to grab a sponge and start to happily scrub away at the pots and pans,” Fernando says. “We ask parents to keep in mind that comparisons like that silently include the phrase ‘and you’re not’ at the end. Comparing kids is never a good thing.”
5. “Stop crying”
It’s tempting to tell a child who is inconsolable over not getting a new toy to toughen up, or that “it’s not the end of the world.” But telling a child to stop crying is no different than telling a child not to feel, says Sherianna Boyle, author of The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Childhood Anxiety. “Anything that promotes non-feeling, promotes pain,” Boyle says. “In order for children to grow emotionally and intellectually it is essential that they learn about the value of their emotions. Otherwise, they are likely to grow up believing that somehow they need to protect themselves from feeling. This puts up invisible walls which can impact self-esteem, relationships and overall motivation. Certainly if your child is crying you can encourage him to calm down, or escort him to a safe, private place where he can pull himself together. However, telling a child to stop crying — particularly in public — can be humiliating.”
6. “You’re a bad boy/bad girl”
There are no “bad” children, only poor decisions that they can either learn from with our help, guidance and appropriate discipline (when required), or be made to feel shame for choosing. “This teaches children that their worth is dependent on the evaluation of others,” Boyle says. “Children learn to either please or withdraw. Instead, focus on choices. There are good choices and not-so-good choices; however, no matter what we choose, this does not impact our inherent worth as a human being.”
7. “Suck it up, I had to get through it”
Our experiences are ours alone and what we took away from them has nothing to do with the journey our children have to take in life. Telling them to “suck it up” because you had it worse devalues your child’s experience, Boyle says. “The bottom line is today’s world is completely different than the one many parents today grew up in,” she says. “We really don’t know what it is like to be a teen today. Telling your child or teen to suck it up will leave a child or teen feeling misunderstood and/or ignored.”
8. “Only if you are good”
Don’t base rewards on something as subjective as whether your child is “good” because the word is quite meaningless and takes away from kids being kind and well-mannered because it’s the right way to be — not because they’ll get a cookie or toy at the end of the day. “Anything that begins with ‘only’ or ‘should’ sets children up for a guilt trip,” Boyle says. “The bottom line is, telling a child they will get a treat only if they are good is based on a parent’s viewpoint. One person’s view of good may be different than another’s. Also, a parent’s mood highly impacts their decisions. The word ‘only’ implies that they have to earn love, approval or attention. With that said, children can lose a privilege if their behavior is inappropriate. Something like, ‘I love you, hitting and whining are not OK. Looks like the arcade won’t work out today.'”
9. “If you don’t get good grades you won’t be able to go to college and have a good life”
Even if your child acts nonchalant and cooler-than-thou about this one, trust that he or she is frightened at the thought of failing in life and that this comment won’t set them up for success. “This one puts a tremendous amount of pressure on kids,” Boyle says. “The reality is if a child really wants to go to college there are many different avenues to explore. Some children don’t really blossom until they are out of the atmosphere of peer pressure. Being a college professor myself, I see many students who did not do well in high school who thrive in a community college setting.”
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