Sticks and stones ain’t got nothin’ on destructive words. These powerful elements have the ability to elevate, encourage and nurture just as well as they can cripple, destroy and crush. This is why parents more than ever need to think before they speak. With a baby in the picture, there’s a lot more riding on what a parent says to them.
Words have the capacity to wound. In fact the damage they inflict is often more difficult to repair than any sort of physical harm. Children feel the impact of harsh words at a much higher level than any adult would. They can easily internalize mistaken ideas and beliefs based on the words a parent chooses to use. Once this occurs, it is sometimes extremely difficult to rectify the false concepts after they have taken shape.
And just as harsh words can cause harm, so can common phrases parents use in order to console and comfort their children. Seemingly ordinary remarks - coming from a place of love and positivity - can often be twisted within a child’s mind. When this happens, it is extremely challenging to reverse the negative effects.
In order to avoid verbally damaging a child, prevention is key. When it comes to hurtful words, parents may want to be proactive by familiarizing themselves with the common culprits. Continue reading for 15 phrases that will damage a child for life.
15 You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself
When a parent invokes the age-old scolding of “You should be ashamed of yourself”, they are attempting to shame a child into feeling guilt about their behavior. Probably in the hopes that they will change it. So not only is a parent stating that their child is a disgrace - but they are doing so in a very underhanded and passive aggressive sort of way.
Shame is a very powerful emotion - but when a parent tries to use it in order to discipline or alter a child’s behavior, it tends to backfire. In a child’s mind, this repeated phrase may eventually translate into the belief that they aren’t good enough and can’t do anything right. As a result, they may just give up trying to please their parents altogether.
Most child experts agree - telling a child to be ashamed of themselves is definitely not a constructive comment. At best, its meaning is completely lost on a child and so does nothing to help them learn appropriate and respectful behavior. At worst, it results in emotional damage and scarring.
14 I Promise
Promise is most definitely a word that should not be casually tossed around between parent and child. Disappointment and hurt feelings are life lessons that children will have to come to terms with sooner or later but a broken promise from a parent is much more damaging.
Sometimes a promise is made in order to soothe or comfort a child as in “Your team will win the next game - I promise.” Or as a way to put a child off such as “I promise I’ll take you to the mall next weekend.” But when used in either capacity, the word ends up losing its distinction and value.
When it comes to the words “I promise”, there are a whole slew of what-ifs that could occur making it difficult, if not impossible for a parent to make good on their word. During any parent/child conversations, it’s best to entirely omit the word promise altogether. Consider replacing it with “We’ll see”. Works like a charm.
13 Stop Crying
Telling a child to “stop crying” is a restrictive demand. By making this request, a parent is basically asking their child to repress their emotions. And as many of us already know, this can be damaging and actually lead to larger and more explosive outbursts in the future.
Sometimes a parent just doesn’t know what else to say in order to soothe their unhappy child. Consider replacing don’t cry with one of these phrases: “It’s okay to cry” or “Everyone needs to cry sometimes” or even just simply “I’m here”.
A parent’s best response when it comes to dealing with a child’s tears is to encourage them to verbalize their feelings. For example: “I can tell you are disappointed/unhappy/upset”. Encouraging a child to understand, interpret and then explain their feelings is an important lesson for the future. These lessons help a child learn to regulate their emotional responses and eventually come to understand why these feelings were triggered in the first place.
12 You're Too Young To Ask That Question
With topics like sex, death, religion and war being discussed more openly in society, it’s only natural that children will likely hear something confusing and turn to their parents for clarification. Remember - this is a good thing! An open dialogue should definitely be encouraged and will hopefully continue into the future.
If a child is capable of asking a question (no matter how awkward) then they deserve an answer. Of course, a parent can tailor their response based on the child’s age and emotional maturity to ensure they will comprehend the answer. A simple question really only requires a simple answer. More complicated responses may require several conversations taking place over time.
If a question is asked at an inopportune moment or catches a parent off guard, their first reaction may be to snap back with “You’re too young” or “Why do you want to know?” But a better response is to suggest having a conversation later when it’s more convenient. This will also give a parent time to prepare a response and not scramble to supply answers.
11 You're Just Like Your Father/Mother
When a parent projects their negative thoughts and emotions about their partner onto their mutual child, the insult becomes a double whammy. Not only does it knock the partner down a notch, but it devalues the child as well.
If the child is already aware of a level of contempt and animosity between parents, then any negative comparison will be sure to sting. And if they are unaware of any friction - then the phrase “You’re just like your mother/father”, especially if said in anger, will signal to a child that the parent is unhappy within the relationship.
By using this phrase, a parent inadvertently places themselves at odds with their partner and child. So not only does it become a one-against-two scenario, but the parent is basically telling their child that they remind them of someone they dislike. As a result, the child is placed in an extremely awkward position between their parents. And they may be wracked with shame any time the parent they were compared to is criticized in the future.
10 Just Let Me Do It
Utter these words to a child and a parent may as well say: “You can’t do anything right” or even “I’m better than you”. No matter how rushed, an impatient parent should take measures to bite their tongue and sit on their hands rather than say this dreaded phrase.
By allowing a child a bit of extra time in order to exert their independence (as well as feel a sense of accomplishment afterward), a parent is doing wonders for their child’s self-esteem. The words “Just let me do it” take all that away from them in one fell swoop.
A parent may believe they are helping their child by saving them time and frustration - but in actuality their child may end up internalizing this so-called help in a negative light. It may affect their confidence resulting in them not even trying in the first place because Mom and Dad can do it better and quicker.
Helping to nudge a child toward independence requires a fine balance of providing guidance, support, silence and presence. Even if a child fails - it won’t be for naught. And sometimes they will achieve victory . . . and that is always worth running a few minutes behind schedule.
9 Everything Is Okay/Stop Worrying
Here’s a scary statistic: according to recent studies, the average kid today is more anxious than people hospitalized for anxiety in the 1950s! When anxiety or worry strikes, phrases like “Everything is okay” and “Stop worrying” may provide children with temporary comfort, but it really does nothing to stop anxiety in the long-run. In order to deal with it properly, anxiety needs to be faced head-on.
It’s a parent’s job to help anxious children learn how to handle their worries - and talking about them is the first step. A parent can ask their child questions about the situation that is bothering them - then help them to develop strategies to face their fears and cope with the worry. This will aid in a child feeling more in control of their emotional responses.
Saying “Everything is okay” may sometimes be an automatic response when a person does not know what else to say or do in order to provide comfort. But especially where a child is concerned, this statement can come across as a big, fat lie. Instead, a parent can listen and assure their child that they are there for them. Just feeling this strength and love will help buoy their spirits.
8 You Need To Lose Weight
When it comes to children and obesity, there’s a definite controversy between the two polarized parenting camps. There’s the belief that one side is guilty of over-indulgence while the other side pushes tough love to its limit.
It can be a confusing business - if a parent says something weight-related to their child, then they run the risk of triggering shameful feelings and a possible eating disorder. On the other hand, if they say nothing, then they perhaps miss out on a perfect opportunity to begin a dialogue about nutrition and healthy living.
According to experts, the trick is to help a child be healthy, yet still feel good about themselves. And the way to achieve this balance is to talk less and do more. In fact, it is entirely possible to exert this positive influence over children without saying a single word. Parents should take steps to set a good example by: making home an easy place to make healthy choices; enjoying sit-down family dinners together as much as possible; remaining physically active as a family; and being hyper aware about how parents talk about their own weight challenges.
7 Leave Me Alone/Don't Bother Me
Parenting is exhausting work. And a few child-free moments from time to time in order to unwind and spend however a person wishes can do wonders for a parent’s ability to recharge and get back to it. But when a parent is constantly giving their kids the brush-off by answering their pleas for attention with “Leave me alone” or “I’m busy”, eventually kids will internalize the message and give up.
Then parents will get exactly what they requested and their children will eventually come to think of them as permanently unavailable. This may set up a problematic pattern as children will be less likely to seek guidance from their parents in the future.
While it’s important for kids to understand their parents require alone time, it’s equally critical that they consider their parents to be approachable. If an important deadline is looming, then consider giving children advanced warning such as “Mommy has to work for the next hour. When I’m done, we’ll play a game together.” But be realistic with expectations - the younger a child is, the shorter the time they will be capable of amusing themselves.
6 Why Can't You Be More Like...
As a parent, it is virtually impossible not to notice other people’s children and their capabilities in comparison to their own kids. And these observations play an important role - they help parents gauge where their own children fit in terms of expectations and reaching milestones. However, it’s best not to vocalize any of these observations where their children may overhear them.
Most often when a parent does make a comment such as: “Look how Jimmy uses the potty” or “See how Jenny zips up her own coat”, it is intended to shine a positive light on an influence they are hoping will rub off on their child. But typically, using comparisons in order to encourage certain behaviors tend to backfire.
A child may end up translating these comparisons into mistaken beliefs that their parents wish they had different children. Also, if a child just isn’t ready to use the potty or figure out a zipper, this pressure can be confusing and end up damaging their self-esteem. Better to focus on what children can achieve rather than what they are struggling with.
5 I Don't Like You Right Now
For any parent about to utter the words “I don’t like you right now” to their child - think again. A parent may as well tell their kid they no longer love them anymore - because that’s how a child will internalize this statement and rework it in their minds.
Don’t get us wrong - there will be times when a parent may not like their child. When they are misbehaving and embarrassing us out in public; when there’s just no reasoning with them; when they are over-reacting. But the important thing to remember is not to say it out loud.
Kids do not yet possess the insight to know that feelings about people and behavior can be completely separated. So feel free to tell a child that their behavior is unacceptable; their actions are inappropriate - by all means even go so far to say: “I don’t like the way you’re behaving right now”. But remember this: the words “I don’t like you right now” may have long-lasting negative effects on a child’s psyche.
4 Hurry Up
There are specific job requirements that come with being a parent and patience is top of the list. While it’s not mandatory, it certainly does make life easier with a baby. For parents with a Type A personality, living life at a leisurely pace is probably easier said than done. But for the sake of their kids, they should try. Children are not agenda-driven beings; they don’t consult with a clock; and most often they will require extra time when first practicing independence.
Give them the additional time they require in order to make their own bed, brush their own teeth, eat breakfast and zip up their own jacket. Telling a child to “Hurry up” not only increases the pressure they are under but may also lead to them becoming more dependent on their parents.
We get it - the life of a parent is most often frantic and frazzled. But there’s a real benefit to having a stop-and-smell-the-roses type of child. Maybe some of it will rub off on parents, helping them focus on what truly matters.
3 I Hate You Too
“I hate you” - this short and bitter phrase packs a real emotional punch when directed at a parent by a child. There are many ways a parent can react and some are better than others. Coming back with “I hate you too”, “Likewise” or even laughing are not ideal responses.
First off, when a child utters the words “I hate you”, they most likely signify difficult and overwhelming emotions they are feeling such as frustration, disappointment and anger. They just don’t possess the vocabulary to accurately express these feelings.
No matter how tempting, parents should do their best not to be reactive, dismissive or overly defensive. Remaining calm, sensitive and empathetic will help restore a connection between parent and child while also modelling appropriate behavior in the face of turmoil. This is the first step in teaching a child how to properly handle their overwhelming emotions.
2 Good Job
Many parents make the mistake of using “Good job” as the rote response to when their child does anything at all - even run-of-the-mill things that should be expected! The problem arises when a child begins to base their behavior and actions on a parent’s constant affirmation and reinforcement as opposed to their own internal motivation.
Experts suggest holding off on constant praise and instead parsing it out for when it’s truly deserved. And even then, to be as specific as possible when bestowing children with compliments. So instead of saying the generic “Nice job” regarding a good report card - hone in on the particulars and try this instead: “I see you’ve improved in math - I know how hard you worked on that.”
Praising a child does not have to become entwined with how a parent shows their love - praise and love are two distinct entities. Raising a child to become a praise junkie does not end up bolstering a child’s self-esteem. Instead it may escalate their dependence on a parent’s approval while also making them insecure and less confident of their actions, beliefs, thoughts and responses.
1 Saying They Are Fat/Ugly/Stupid
Insulting a child is a form of verbal aggression which is on par with emotional abuse. It can damage a child’s psychological and emotional development. Name calling, shaming, mean public teasing, rejection, extremely negative criticism - these are all destructive and abusive behaviors that no parent should ever impart upon their children.
The harm occurring may be invisible - but this just makes it all the more detrimental. Insulting a child tears them apart bit-by-bit and may result in:
- Lowering a child's self-esteem, sense of value and self worth
- A child rebelling or disobeying a parent
- The child becoming depressed
- Their becoming overly aggressive adults
- A ruinous relationship between child and parent
Keep in mind that there are key differences between dealing with a child in a firm and/or assertive way and insulting them. The former is beneficial as well as influential. The latter is a definite no-no.