Emotional reactions in the heat of the moment can make it easy to lose your cool and say something harmful to your child. It happens; but words have power, and some phrases completely break your child’s psyche, leaving a mark on them forever.
Most parents would do anything to avoid hurting their child, but if you don’t intend on letting your emotions get the better of you, or you don’t understand the harm in your words- you may unintentionally cause harm. And there are 12 phrases that psychologists suggest avoiding at all costs, due to their impact on your child.
1. “You don’t feel that way.”
Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW explains that “You don’t feel that way is one of the worst things parents can say to their children,” she continues by saying that, “Parents should validate children’s feelings even if they don’t agree with them or wish they didn’t feel that way.” \
2. “Why can’t you be more like ____?”
This phrase is even more harmful when the comparison is made between two siblings, but regardless of who you are comparing your child to, you will ultimately damage your child by leading them to believe they are not “good enough at their core, and that who they are, is defective in some way,” says psychotherapist Shirley Porter, RSW.
3. “We’ll never afford that.”
Instead of telling your child that money is holding you back from a purchase, show them you have control over your finances and that you are working towards such goals. Amy Morin, LCSW explains that if you teach your child how to cultivate good financial habits, they will grow up knowing that they can adjust their priorities and work towards the things they want most.
4. “I will never forgive you.”
Dr. Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and author of “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence says that even though this phrase may seem harmless enough, it will make the child feel that “whatever has been done will forever be remembered against them.” Instead of phrasing it like that, explain why what they did was wrong and accept the mistake, and move forward.
5. “No dessert until you’ve finished dinner.”
Yet another seemingly harmless, and often used phrase, this one could cause your child to develop poor eating habits and teaches them to ignore their internal hunger cues. “You’re already having difficulty getting your child to eat their food, and this increases your child’s perceived threat and creates an increased power differential,” explains registered play therapist Sarah Rees.
6. “Stop crying.”
Telling someone to stop crying, or to calm down when they are in an intensely emotional moment rarely helps. And this can ultimately confuse you because your child will begin to think that their feelings aren’t okay. Clinical psychologist Danielle Harris explains that in the future, they will be less likely to tell you how they feel.
7. “You were an accident.”
Regardless of whether you planned for your child or not- when you tell them they were an accident will make them feel unwanted. Licensed psychologist Nicki Nance says, “People want to be loved straight up, without a disclaimer.”
8. “Because I say so.”
When you use this phrase, you remove the learning experience of the moment. This phrase isn’t a satisfactory explanation and it removes responsibility from your child and teaches them to blindly obey. Instead, try explaining to them why. They will understand it better, and likely comply much better as well.
9. “I’m ashamed of you.”
Pickhardt and Dr. Katherine Kersey both try to steer parents away from using this phrase. Using this phrase may make your child feel like a disgrace or an outsider in the family. Avoid this phrase, and replace it with Kersey’s suggestion of “Although I feel bad about what you did, as always I love who you are.”
10. “Here, I’ll do it.”
When trying to help your child to finish a project, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and try to fix it on your own. However, doing so will rob your children of an opportunity to learn and will also show them that they should let you do everything for them. Kersey suggests approaching it as a team and by working together.”
11. “Leave me alone!”
Parenting is a constant job that can be both overwhelming and exhausting. Psychologists warn against using statements such as “Leave me alone!” because the words can become internalized and cause them to feel like you would rather they weren’t around them at all.
12. “I’m going to tell your mommy (or daddy) when they get home!”
This is extremely ineffective because, by the time their other parent hears about it, they have likely forgotten it. Instead, psychologists encourage parents to face the problem at the moment. It will likely prevent them from losing respect for you, as the more you use this phrase the more your child will doubt your ability to enforce discipline.