Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Not only do you have to physically care for a child, making sure all their biological needs are met, but you have to try and raise them to be a good person. That’s a LOT of pressure.
There’s already a ton of responsibility that comes along with parenting, and that includes the things you say to your kids. Being their biggest (and sometimes, only) role models, the things you say to young children play a huge part in shaping who they are and how they think.
With that in mind, there are some things we may say out of frustration or without thinking that may be harmful to our kids in the long run. Here are 7 of those dangerous phrases and options for what you can say instead.
1. “You’ll learn when you’re older.” // “Let’s learn together.”
When a child wants to know about something (and these questions can often be uncomfortable ones), they’re going to ask their parents for answers. Probably over and over and over. Telling them that they’ll learn when they’re older might seem like a quick way to quiet them, but what it might do is have them looking elsewhere for answers; i.e. kids at school or the internet.
If they’ve taken you off guard with an awkward question be politely honest and say, “I’m not ready to answer now. I need some time.” But don’t use this to put off an answer; doing this could lead to feelings of mistrust. Figure out what you want to say, maybe grab some reputable sources, and tell them you’ll learn about the answer together.
2. “I’m on a diet.” // “I’m eating healthy because I like the way it makes me feel.”
Body image is something that starts young for both boys and girls, and their parents are the role models for this development. If they hear you talking about how you “feel fat” or aren’t eating because you “need to lose weight,” this gives kids the impression that starving to be skinny (which is the ideal body, they might begin to think) is okay.
Instead, tell them about how eating the right types of food and exercising frequently makes you feel amazing. They’ll want to feel amazing too, and they’ll follow in your footsteps.
What a great way to get them to eat their fruits and veggies!
3. “I do everything for you!” // “I’d love it if you did more of…”
First of all, it’s unlikely that you do EVERYTHING for your child, especially if they’re a little grown. But the worse part of this frustrated exclamation is guilt. Children understand that if their parents do everything for them, they’re not having fun of their own, which can lead to lingering feelings of guilt. This can prevent them from feeling anger towards their parents, even in their adult life, and stunt positive conversations.
Instead, target on what they don’t do. Want them to pick up their toys? Tell them how much you love that they, say, that they dress themselves in the morning like a big boy/girl. Now, you want them to do another big boy/girl task and pick up after themselves. Make sure you mention how happy it would make you if they cooperated.
4. “Hurry up and get ready!” // “Let’s hurry, I need you to get dressed, please.”
This is a phrase that really stressed a child out. They can easily feel guilty and then sad for “slowing you down,” which could result in a meltdown that will make you even later. This also confuses them as they may need specifics on what “getting ready” means.
Rather than pin it on them, make it general: “we all need to hurry up” or “let’s hurry.” Then give them specific instructions on what needs to be done and always end with a “please.”
5. “Big boys/girls don’t get scared.” // “What’s scaring you? Here’s what it really is…”
Invalidating their fear of the monster under the bed isn’t doing any good. This will get embarrass your kids and make them feel like fear is a shameful emotion.
Try asking them what’s scaring them. Once you get to the root of the problem, show them that they have nothing to worry about; check under the bed with them, ect.
6. “Listen to adults.” // “Listen to your parents.”
Now this one can be seriously dangerous if kids interpret it the wrong way, which is easy for them to do. You might tell your children to listen to all adults because you want them to respect the teachers at school or your adult friends, but this can set a dangerous precedent.
Telling them to listen to “adults” in general will make them think all adults are good and wise, when we know there are some adults out there looking to harm children. Instead, specify who they should listen to, like parents, teachers, and so on.
7. “Stop crying.” // “Why are you crying? What happened?”
It’s easy for a child to hear this and connotate that emotions = bad. This might cause your kids to grow up silent and withdrawn, with suppressed emotions that may manifest in unhealthy ways later in life.
Rather than commanding them to stop, start a dialogue with them about why they’re crying. Not only will they tell you something important (like, I hurt myself) but it will let them know that their feelings are valid.