When it comes to talking to kids, we know that every parent takes a different approach. With that being said, there are certain phrases that can end up communicating more harm than good to an impressionable child.
Here are 5 things you should never say to your little one…
“Why can’t you be more like___?”
Let’s be honest— it’s only natural to compare your kids to their siblings, cousins, or friends, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. The minute you start focusing on the differences in abilities between two children—especially out loud—is when you admit that you are unwilling to accept the primary characteristics of your child.
Psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack stresses that if a child senses that he or she is being compared or held to an unrealistic expectation, it can lead to frustration, stress, and lower self-esteem—three things kids DON’T need!
What you should say: If you feel that your child needs some extra motivation, do your best to highlight their strong points. A good way to start is to write down his or her strengths and find relevant activities in which they can build these interests. Remember, no two people are the same, and sometimes it can take a bit of trial and error for a child to find their niche.
Unless you were raised by a developmental psychologist, we bet you heard this piercing sentiment once or twice when you were a kid. It’s a phrase that is often used during the most exasperating parenting moments—and usually for lack of a better term —but it’s one that simply does not work.
Don’t believe us? Try it on your kid the next time he or she starts with the waterworks after they scraped their knee during a soccer match or they skipped their daily nap! Simply put: losing your patience with a crying child will not put them into a calm, serene state.
What you should say: Instead, follow parenting expert, Roma Kitty Norriss’ advice. She uses phrases like “I’m right here,” “You are safe,” and “It won’t be like this forever,” to help lessen her little one’s worry.
Sure, some tantrums are just “bratty moments” where they may be testing limits, but they all occur when kids feel powerless, scared, or during times when they are not feeling “heard”. The first step in mending the situation is showing them that, while they may not always get what they want, you will always be there to support them.
OK, before you roll your eyes, hear us out! We are not knocking positive reinforcement here; in fact, we are all about it. It’s not the support we take issue with, it’s the way in which we have been programmed to communicate it to our kids that’s the problem.
You see, the phrase “Good job!”—and ones similar to it—are what psychologist Jim Taylor, PhD., calls “lazy praise.” In other words, it’s something that children hear all the time, whether it be from teachers, relatives, or even their peers, and it does nothing in terms of highlighting their specific actions.
This does a couple of things: 1) Because kids hear this so often, they end up taking the praise for granted, which can hurt them later in life when this type of verbal positive reinforcement lessens and 2) Since the phrase is so vague, it turns into a “black and white” sentiment, meaning that they end up equating “good job” to success and no “good job” to failure.
What you should say: Instead of relying on this “lazy phrase,” challenge yourself to use specific language by highlighting exactly what it was that your child did well. In addition to this, Dr. Taylor recommends only using this type of praise in situations where he or she has control, like when they show discipline, self-control, or generosity.
“I’m so fat!”
Sure, we all have those moments when we look in the mirror and wish we were a few pounds lighter, but they are definitely not the time to bring your growing child in on the pity party.
Marc S. Jacobsen, M.D., a professor of pediatrics says that when a child is constantly exposed to a parent jumping from fad diet to fad diet, they too may end up with body image issues, even if they don’t end up having a weight problem.
For a child, hearing phrases like “I’m fat” or “I hate my body” can normalize low self-esteem, something no parent wants to pass down to their little one.
What you should say: Dr. Jacobsen urges parents to put a positive spin on diet and exercise. Instead of saying “I need to exercise,” say “It’s beautiful outside—I’m going to take a walk.” Be a good role model to your children by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle. Not only will you feel better – we promise! – your kids will learn that the road to self-acceptance can be an easy one.
“I make more money than your mom/dad.”
If you are part of a two income household where you and your partner work, it’s important that you give both parties – including yourself! – the credit that they deserve.
For instance, let’s say that you are a doctor and your partner is a public school teacher. Both jobs are equally important in the world, but the latter position does not come with that big six-figure salary that an M.D. brings home.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that grade-school children don’t have a firm concept of how money works in our society. In her book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not): A Parents’ Guide For Kids 3 to 23, personal finance expert Beth Kobliner says that talking salaries with your tykes can end up confusing them in the long-run.
“Putting dollar figures on what Mom and Dad earn can send the message, especially to young children, that one parent’s contribution is more important than the other’s,” says Kobliner.
What you should say: If your child starts asking questions about your salaries, display a united front by telling them that you two are a “team that works together.”
Now that you’ve learned some tried and true healthy parenting lingo, we’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with the advice on our list? Do you have anything that you would like to add? Do you have topics that are off-limits in your house?