When we are first born, our parents are all that we have in this world. We would not be who we are today without them.
Our parents are the first people we look to and count on for support and guidance in life. We need to feel safe and loved within their arms, and we need to feel safe within the words they use to speak to us.
We are all human, and everyone makes mistakes, yet when we are children we do not yet understand this of our beloved parents. Mom and Dad are our whole world, our creators, our heroes and protectors. They know everything and there is nothing they cannot do.
Everything that a parent does and the way they do it is observed and learned from, and this becomes the foundation of the child’s psyche, feelings and beliefs. The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice, and helps them to understand between right and wrong.
When parents are angry and cold towards their little ones, they carry on this same behavior into adulthood, and the majority of the time they treat their children the exact same way later on. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of being human. If you are making one now, why not take the time to make a few adjustments for the sake of your child?
We all want our children to develop into wonderful and kind human beings, whose inner voice encourages and supports them rather than insults and criticizes them. If you use words of love, acceptance and care when talking to your child, they will take that on as their inner voice, and they will be so grateful that you instilled in them messages of love rather than an inner critic that makes them feel depressed or worthless.
These are 8 phrases you should never say to your children, no matter how angry you become or what they have done:
1. “STOP CRYING RIGHT NOW!”
You should not say this phrase to your child even if you think that there is no reason for the child to be crying. They are just children, they don’t know yet about how to control or manage their feelings, and by giving them commands to halt what is a natural and okay feeling within themselves, they can begin to internalize and incorrectly learn that it is not okay to have feelings or to be emotional. Their futures can become ones riddled with therapy and difficult relationships, as they’ve internalized and learned from an early age to suppress their honest and genuine emotions rather than to embrace and to understand them.
Here are a few phrases you can use instead that will help your child to understand their feelings and to feel loved:
“It’s okay to be sad,”
“Why are you crying sweetie?”
“I hear that you need space. I want to be here for you. I’ll stay close so you can find me when you’re ready,”
“I will help you work it out,” and
These phrases can help to show acceptance for your child’s natural feeling, and helps to show them that you love them. They will internalize these healthy behaviors and live much healthier and satisfying lives.
2. “I AM DISAPPOINTED IN YOU!”
Parents tend to use this phrase after the child has made a mistake, has failed at something, or has done something the parent does not agree with. Usually the child is already feeling low and down about themselves and their behavior. They tend to feel judged, criticized and blamed, even when there was no intention to let you down. It’s very important to differentiate “YOU” and who the child is as a whole, from their behavior, which was a specific action. Children can begin to believe that they themselves are wrong when this type of language is used, rather than that a certain behavior was not what you wanted.
A healthy alternative could be using non-violent communication:
“When (child’s behavior)… I feel (a specific feeling)… because (describe your need and how you’ve been affected)… Would you be willing to (a specific request from you for your child).”
This form of communication allows the child to understand without feeling criticized, blamed or judged, and enables them to maintain their self-esteem while learning at the same time, rather than losing their self-esteem, which can then become internalized as lower self-confidence throughout life.
*Note: when choosing a feeling, disappointed may be the feeling at the tip of the iceberg, but the body of the Disappointment Iceberg might hold other feelings that can be healthier to use with your child. These could include sadness, hurt, or worried. The challenge is to identify the primary feeling that is being expressed as ‘disappointed’ and to replace it with one that will not harm the child.
3. “YOU ARE NOT [SOMETHING] ENOUGH!”
When kids are told that something they’ve done isn’t good enough, what they really hear is ‘you’re not good enough,” according to a study published in the Journal of Family Issues. By saying to your child that something is lacking in them, whether it be internally or externally, it hurts them. Most likely your intention is not to have them believe that they themselves are not good enough, but rather that a certain behavior you don’t approve of isn’t. Yet often these words communicate to them that they themselves are not good enough; it’s implied and it regularly is what the child understands. A child’s self-esteem and ability to feel loved and accepted is very strongly tied to their sense of feeling good enough, and them being enough should always be protected in your language.
Poor self-esteem can be difficult to repair and can follow a child for life, so any language that creates it should be addressed soon. Try encouraging your child towards a good behavior rather than condemning them for an undesirable one. Recognize what they did right, even if it was something small, or recognize something they’ve done well in the past and reflect on how they might be able to do it again. If you’re wanting to encourage a different behavior, try:
1. Being a role model of the desired behavior.
2. Show your child how you feel, as compassionately as possible.
3. Catch your child being ‘good’ by giving positive feedback and rewards when they are behaving in a way you like.
4. Connect with your child on their level by listening actively.
5. Create an environment for good behavior.
6. Keep your promises and
7. Choose your battles wisely.
4. “BIG BOYS/GIRLS DON’T GET SCARED.”
All humans regardless of their age get scared; babies get scared, children get scared, teens get scared, and even adults get scared. Telling your child not to be afraid does not make their fear go away. Encourage your child gently to face their fears through understanding, always starting small in environments where they can feel safe. Understand your child’s fear, talk to them and let them share their fear with you. A child’s mind often works a bit differently than an adults and that’s okay. The key is that you’re willing to show them that you care and that you’re here to support them while they work their way through it.
WikiHow made a wonderful guide on how to help your child overcome their fears that can be found here.
5. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!”
What’s the problem with saying the phrase, “What is wrong with you?” to your child? Nothing, if your tone is compassionate and you are genuinely wondering if they want to share their feelings with you.
But that is far different from what we hear all too often when a parent is exasperated with a child, putting their hands on their waist in a frustrated desperation and asking this question. Then it becomes a question that indicates a defect in the child’s being. Avoid globalizing statements that can generate shame towards their entire being and leave them emotional scars for years to come.
There are no perfect parents, but we’re always learning how we can better love our children. Instead of using this phrase, try speaking with them about a specific behavior that you are concerned about, so that they can understand that it is the behavior rather than who they are as a person that is troubling you.
For example, lets say your child is in a hurry and is not paying attention, then accidentally breaks something. You are hurried, rushed, and stressed yourself, yet instead of letting the damaging words ‘What is wrong with you?’ come out of your mouth, try a new approach: Be direct but also instructive: “Honey, let’s slow things down. It’s OK, we’re both rushing here and I know you did not do that on purpose. Next time, just tell Mom or Dad that you are feeling rushed, stressed, or upset and we can discuss it, and we can also remember to slow down and to take our time. Together let’s figure out what to do.”
6. “YOU ARE A BAD KID!”
You should never make your child feel like they are bad as a whole. It really can do lasting damage and simply isn’t true. Instead again focus on the specific behaviors, being clear about which behaviors and actions bothered you, without making judgmental statements about the child. We all make mistakes, and it doesn’t mean that we are terrible people. It means we are human, or simply just innocent children experimenting, playing, and learning.
If you came back into your child’s room after a short break and found that they have colored all over the walls with crayons, take a second to calm yourself, and then calmly prepare how to proceed: your child’s emotional health is worth more than this wall. Be clear with the child where it’s acceptable to draw and where it isn’t, and repeat these guidelines often, while removing anything they use to draw when they do draw inappropriately. Also make sure they are given plenty of opportunity to draw creatively on drawing pads, coloring books, and even on creative playmats.
7. “I DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU!”
Naturally, this is one aspect of being a parent, you tend to need to do most everything for them. Yet this isn’t a reason to hold it over their head as a way to elicit guilt and submission. Parenting can be difficult and often times children are not grateful for how much you do, but give it time, they eventually will be deeply, deeply grateful for your love.
8. “YOU’RE FAT.”
A 2013 study published in Jama Pediatrics found that:
“Mothers and fathers who engaged in weight-related conversations had adolescents who were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight-control behaviors, and engage in binge eating… Parent conversations focused on weight/size are associated with increased risk for adolescent disordered eating behaviors, whereas conversations focused on healthful eating are protective against disordered eating behaviors.”
Telling a child they’re fat is not a healthy way to deal with a child’s natural weight, but rather can lead to a load of emotional and mental problems early on and later in life. Love your children for who they are, and accept them regardless of their weight or appearance. If your child’s weight is a legitimate health concern as mentioned to you by your doctor, try engaging in physical activity together with them, and provide healthy meals with lots of vegetables.
Children are perfect just the way they are, as you well know in your heart, and your dedicated practice to using language that helps them develop into a kind and loving human being will help them shine for years to come.