15 Things Parents Should Never Say to Their Child

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When you become a parent, you soon discover that there’s much more to this ‘job’ than making sure your children are well-fed and dry. You learn that it’s your responsibility to teach them about the world and to show them how to be a good person, to teach them about responsibility, dedication, and honesty, but this is easier said than done. Parents aren’t super-humans, we have flaws of our own, and children can set us on edge. Still, no matter how frustrated we are, there are some things parents should never say to their child. For example:

Practice makes perfect

As well-intentioned as this saying is, it can actually cause stress and anxiety in your child. Of course, you want to encourage your child to work hard and focus on the task at hand, but sometimes this kind of encouragement can backfire. It’s meant as an uplifting saying and encouragement, but it will make them feel a lot of pressure to achieve perfection. The underlying message is: if mistakes happen, you didn’t work and try hard enough, which is not something you want your child to feel, do you? They will be frustrated and might even say: “I’ve been practicing so much and working so hard, but I’m still not the best”. Or worse, they might not even voice their doubts and fears out loud to you but choose to internalize them, which is why this popular saying is among the things you should never say to your child.

You’re too sensitive

You might think that calling your child ‘too sensitive’ will cause them to calm down and rethink their actions, but it won’t. Parents who use this when talking to their children are not in tune with their children’s feelings, and the saying will only shift the responsibility and the blame away from their own behavior to their children and their supposed inadequacies. Children who keep hearing this from their parents when they’re clearly upset over something will come to a conclusion that there’s something wrong with them and that they’ve done something wrong. They will start repressing their feelings and as a result, grow up into adults who can’t express their emotions clearly.

Be a big boy/girl

As much as parents would like their children to possess the emotional maturity of adults, it isn’t going to happen for a very long time. “Be a big boy/Be a big girl” are among the things parents should never say to their children to force them to act in the way they’re not yet ready to. Sadly, maturity is something that can’t be coaxed out of a child no matter what parents say, so telling them to “suck it up” and “act like a big boy/girl” will not help them. It’s a process and not something that can be turned on and off, especially if they’re clearly upset over something.

You don’t feel that way

Recognizing children’s feelings is important, as important as validating them, and parents shouldn’t try to downplay the things children say. They might scream that they hate you and that you’re the worst parent on the planet, and you know that’s not how they feel about you,  but it doesn’t mean you should disregard their feelings. What a child feels is every bit as valid as what an adult does, regardless of whether the said adults recognize this as true. Don’t dismiss how they feel, even if you disagree with what they’re saying make an effort and say that you understand they’re upset, but don’t brush it off.

You can be anything you want

It’s perfectly natural that you want your child to have big goals, as you probably have them yourself, but you might want to refrain from using this one when talking to them. “You can be anything you want to be” is among the things parents should never say to their children because focusing on overly-ambitious goals can have a negative effect on children. There are negative side-effects you should take into consideration, for example, unethical behavior some of them might embrace in order to achieve their goals. Even if they work hard, children might not be able to make their dreams come true. Instead, tell them that they have to have at least a bit of luck to achieve it; that way they will understand that not everything is in their control.

Image of sad boy in blue

What’s wrong with you?

We have to point out immediately that this is perfectly fine to say to your child if, and only if, you use a compassionate tone of voice. If you say this while being angry or annoyed, they will internalize it and believe that there really is something wrong with them, but won’t be able to understand what exactly is wrong. They trust you and rely on you, and they might end up thinking that there’s something wrong with them in the years to come; they will never feel good enough.

Stop crying

Anyone who was ever ordered to stop crying can confirm the following: it doesn’t help. When the child is crying, and you order them to stop in an angry and annoyed tone, you’ll only succeed in making them feel bad about crying in the first place. Instead, you should try instructing them to take deep, calming breaths until the tears stop, and then gently ask them what’s wrong.

You’re fat

Childhood obesity is a serious issue in many countries around the world, and parents are naturally worried about their children’s health. Still, there is no excuse for parents who call their children fat as a pejorative. This is among the things you should never say to your child because you will seriously harm their self-esteem and mental health. Parents who call their children fat will rarely succeed in motivating them to lose weight, but they will most likely cause serious emotional issues, and probably trigger eating disorders in the future. Instead of body-shaming and name-calling your children, try to set an example by eating healthy, teach them to prepare healthy, nutritious meals for themselves, and join them for regular exercise.

Why didn’t you do better?

As unlikely it is that you will ever ask your friend who is a middle-manager why they’re not a CEO of their company, you should not ask your children about the grades they got. Asking them in an accusing tone why they only got a B and not an A on their test will do nothing but make them feel guilty and upset over something they can’t correct at the moment. Wanting your children to do well in school is something all parents have in common, but questions like these will not help. What could help, though, is a gentle suggestion that they prepare for future tests a bit better than before as well as offering help.

Let me show you how it’s done

We understand it can be frustrating to see your child struggling with a task you find easy, but “That’s not how you do it” is very high on the list of things you should never say to your child. It might be tempting to take the matter into your hands and finish the work for them just so they can see how it’s done, but you shouldn’t do it. When dealing with a tough task, it’s better to let them go through with it on their own because it’s the best way for them to learn how to do it in the first place.

Image of displeased lille girl

Leave me alone

Children are known to be nosy, clingy, and a bit boring, and they might be driving you up the wall often, but if you repeatedly tell them to leave you alone when you need some alone time could do serious harm to the way they think about spending time with you. Like with other negative messages, they’ll internalize it and begin to think that there’s actually no point in talking to you in the first place because you’ll just keep brushing them off in the future too. If they learn this in their youth, they’ll probably not be open with you when they get older.

I will leave you here then

Teaching them a lesson when they’re acting up is sometimes a good move, but threatening to leave them behind is not something you want to do often. When they don’t want to leave the park, the playground, of their friend’s house, don’t say: “Well, I’ll simply leave you here then”. It might make them move, but the very idea will trigger stress and anxiety and make them feel insecure and less safe. They will believe that you won’t always be there for them, that you won’t protect them, and you have to admit that it’s a very frightening thought.

I could do it when I was your age

It’s a nice feeling to be able to pass on your passions and skills to your children, but telling them that you could do something when you were their age when they clearly can’t, will make them feel inadequate. They will understand that they’re not meeting your personal milestones, and it’s a thought that can harm their confidence in the long run.

Eat it, it’s good for you

“Eat this, it’s good for you” is among phrases that parents should never say to their child because it can backfire in the future. This is especially the case with vegetables they don’t like – they will figure out that anything that’s remotely healthy will taste just as bad and will reject it without even giving it a try. You’ll notice that praising the taste of a food and telling them how much fun it is to eat it will give much better results.

You’re okay

It might be a reflex to tell your upset child that everything is “okay” because, even though it might seem that way from your perspective, it’s different for them. Validate their feelings first, tell them you understand they’re upset and hurt, and help them identify what they’re feeling: “I know you’re scared/I can see you’re angry”. You can achieve much more if you give them a hug, acknowledging what they’re feeling, and ask them if they want a kiss or a bandage (or perhaps both).

Some of the phrases and sayings we listed here are pretty common and might surprise you, but you would be surprised just how negatively they can affect your child. There are things you should never say to your child that sound innocent and harmless but can leave deep scars for the rest of their life. This is why you should always be careful and pick your words wisely when you’re around your children, they are more perceptive and intuitive than you know, and you don’t want to send them the wrong message.

Author: Mary Lynn Holden
Author: Mary Lynn Holden

Proud mom and stepmom to an adorable bunch of kids aged 7 and up. Deeply appreciates three things in life: the help of older siblings in the house, texts on parenting, and strong coffee. Shares her stories and experiences in order to help others navigate the unpredictable waters of parenting.

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