Fathers have a profound effect on their children, whether they are a part of their lives or not. This is even true for what fathers say to their kids. Words matter, and a father who uses them to name-call or express resentment will hurt his relationship with his kids.
There are phrases that dads use that are obviously harmful, then there are those that seem innocent enough but are loaded with negative meanings. It is important to recognize these early on and watch what words are used with a child. They remember and can be affected by what is said.
Even tone of voice and facial expression matters when we communicate with others. Kids know when parents aren't being sincere or are really disappointed. The words matter, and so does the body language and tone of voice that goes with them.
Fathers have a special place in children's lives. Kids care what their dads think, so if a father says something that makes a child feel unwanted or builds unrealistic expectations, a child will hold onto that and feel the effects. That's why the following phrases shouldn't be used, and dads need to be extra careful not to throw these phrases around.
20 "I Always Wanted A Boy/Girl"
Children care what their parents think of them, and it's difficult to go through life knowing dad wanted a baby of a different gender. Even if it's said jokingly, dad should not talk about wishing he had a different gender baby to his child or around his child. It makes the child feel like a mistake.
Dad can bond with his child no matter the gender, and it's important to remember this and to honor his child. Even if dad has three daughters and never had a son, this is not a tragedy. Those daughters shouldn't feel less than because they aren't sons.
19 Wishing The Kid Looked Different
Commenting on a child's appearance is tricky. Telling a child she is beautiful all the time can make her think physical appearance is more important than everything else about her. On the other end of things, constantly critiquing a child's appearance or saying she would look better if she made changes to how she looked tells the child she's not attractive. Either way, too much emphasis is put on appearance.
Kids go to great lengths to please their parents. When they worry they aren't good enough physically because of a comment dad made, they may resort to dangerous means to try to look better.
18 "Don't Cry"
Don’t cry is equivalent to telling a panicked person to calm down. It doesn’t work, and when a child hears dad tell him not to cry, he believes what he is doing is wrong. Crying is simply an expression of emotion. As opposed to telling a child to stop, dad would do well to find out what is wrong and teach his child to find a way to solve the problem or just grieve.
Kids may think their dads see them as weak if they hear crying is off limits. Repressing emotions isn’t strength, and children should be encouraged by both parents to express their emotions in healthy ways.
17 "Those Feelings Aren't Valid"
A mistake many fathers make is to assume they know how their children think or feel. When a child expresses an emotion, a preference, or opinion and dad argues with her, he’s saying her feelings are up for debate. This is not something we tend to do with adults because we know they have agency over how they feel. We shouldn’t do it to our children either.
A father who raises a child to doubt her feelings will likely see negative results in the future when that child doubts herself or second guesses her every thought. Let children explain what they feel and believe them.
16 Belittling Talk
It’s not always easy to deal with childish behavior. The petty fights and tantrums can wear on anyone’s nerves, but it’s important not to equate being a child with being bad. Dad telling a child he’s acting like a child in a moment of misbehavior enforces the idea that being a child means being whiny, disobedient, or annoying. This isn’t true.
Yes, kids go through challenges as their brains develop when trying to express their disappointment. However, it’s better to recognize a child’s good behavior than it is to call him childish when he’s having a weak moment. Give him time to mature and encourage progress along the way.
15 Not Trusting The Child
The emergence of the #MeToo movement has shown how extremely important it is that we let children know we believe them and will hear their truths. A dad who calls a child a liar or chooses to dismiss information he doesn’t want to face teaches her she can’t come to him and expect to be fully heard. It’s a dangerous habit to start in childhood.
Believe children. Ask clarifying questions, and it’s obviously important to talk to a child if they are caught lying. However, the message should be that a child can tell dad anything and know she will be heard and believed.
14 Downplaying The Bad
Dad may use this phrase to try to toughen up a child. If his son falls down and seems unsure of how to react, dad may chime in with “you’re okay” before his child has a chance to think too hard about how he really feels.
While this might keep a child from wailing over a barely skinned knee in public, it also teaches him to internalize pain. He learns that saying he’s okay is what is desired, and this may keep him from being honest about his physical or emotional state in the future. Ask a child if he’s okay and let him honestly answer.
13 Calling Kids Dramatic
There’s no way to get around the fact that children can absolutely blow things out of proportion at times. Toddlers tend to bring drama to the smallest incidents, and it’s easy to forget that they aren’t doing this on purpose. To a child, whatever he is wailing about really is that serious in his head. Saying he’s simply being dramatic embarrasses a child, and that’s not the right thing to do even if the child is overreacting.
Calling teenagers dramatic isn’t any better. A dad who models empathy instead of diagnosing a child as dramatic has a better chance of truly understanding what is going on. The empathy approach also builds the father/child relationship instead of tearing it down.
12 "That's Not A Biggie"
Children sometimes pick random things to be scared about, and this can be hard for dad to understand. Fathers sometimes want to push their kids beyond their fears, and they do this by saying what the child fears isn’t really scary. Again, this is another way of telling a child he or she doesn’t know what they feel or that their emotions aren’t valid.
It’s fine to want to help a child overcome worries, but dad can acknowledge the reason a child is scared. This opens dialogue and will help the child trust that dad understands and wants to offer assistance. There’s a lot less embarrassment associated with this approach.
11 "The Kid Should Already Know How to Do That"
We have developmental milestone markers that we measure kids against, and parents have their own expectations of what their children should be able to do at certain ages. However, kids are unique. Some grasp skills early and others don’t. A child may excel in one area and be way behind in another. That’s okay.
Instead of shaming a child for not knowing how to do something, dad should take the time to teach the child what he wants him to know. If he can’t grasp the concept yet, accept that and wait for the skills the child lacks to develop so he’ll be able to perform the task. This is much better for a child’s sense of self-worth.
10 "Don't Eat So Much"
Food, diets, and size are loaded topics no matter what. Dad will make things so much worse if he critiques his child’s eating habits by saying she eats too much. This doesn’t address why the child is eating so much or what dad is concerned about. It simply connects eating to negativity, and that’s a dangerous link that will lead to trouble.
Dad can teach his child about nutrition and encourage healthy habits, but he should be careful about how he talks about a child’s relationship with food. Food should be seen as fuel for the body and something that is nice to enjoy. Commenting on how much a child eats makes food about much darker things.
9 "It's No Big Deal"
If something is a big deal to a child, it’s a big deal. It may not be in the big scheme of things, especially when adults understand what real problems lurk in the world. However, to that child the issue they are upset about is important. When dad minimizes the seriousness by saying it’s not a big deal, he shuts down future communication.
A father who wants a child to come to him later in life when the problems get bigger has to acknowledge the problems the child has along the way. Even when these issues are tiny to adult eyes, a father who takes them seriously will win the trust of his child for the future.
8 "Why Can't You Understand?"
Kids don’t grasp concepts the same way adults do, and that’s normal. Though asking a question seems innocuous enough, if the question is meant to make a child feel stupid for not understanding something, it’s dangerous.
When miscommunication occurs, it’s best to take a step back and reassess instead of blaming a child for not understanding. Finding a different way to explain or approach the issue is a better approach for dad than asking a loaded question that has no correct answer. If a child knew why he couldn’t understand, he would correct the problem and ease the tension. When a child can't do this, it’s generally because he simply can’t.
7 Threats To Leave
No matter how unreasonable a child is being, dad should not use the threat of abandonment to motivate her. Even if dad knows he would never leave his child behind, his child can’t be sure of this. An adult making this kind of threat is taken seriously when little ears hear it.
It’s fine to be frustrated or to ask for a child to do as they are told, but they shouldn’t believe leaving them behind is an option if they don’t. A child is going to have a bad day, and it’s important that he knows dad will still be there, no matter how hard it gets.
6 "Mom Is Dramatic"
Bashing the other parent to a child is a no. Dad should not say mom is a drama queen because he doesn’t agree with her on something, and he definitely shouldn’t say this to their child. This puts a child in the middle of an adult argument, and that’s never where a kid should be.
It’s important for kids to know their parents care about each other, whether they are together or not. Trying to earn a child’s loyalty by running down the other parent often backfires, and it causes emotional turmoil for kids. Dad should say nice things about a child’s mom or not say anything at all.
5 "I Could Do So Much More Before Having Kids"
There is a mile-long list of activities that were possible or easier before a kid entered the picture. That’s true for any parent. There are also experiences people can only have once they become parents. That should be the focus when talking to kids because no one wants to feel like their existence is a burden.
Even if dad had to give up certain things once his child arrived, he shouldn’t lay this burden on his child. It’s unfair and can hurt a child’s self-esteem. Eventually, it can lead to a child resenting the parent who seems to resent him so much.
4 Reminding Them They Are Just a Kid
Kids bring so much to the world with their views and experiences. They experience things anew each day, and parents should have an appreciation for that instead of seeing it as a problem. When a child has an idea or wants to right an injustice in the world, he shouldn't be told he's just a kid, as if this somehow makes him less significant than an adult.
Kids should be encouraged to see themselves as fully capable beings from day one. They need to know what they do matters and that they can change the world with their efforts. Don't disparage their desires by making them feel small.
3 "Baby Is Perfect"
Who hasn't innocently uttered this phrase in a child's ear? It seems innocent enough. Dad is just letting his child know that he thinks she is wonderful. The problem is the word perfect implies a child is not allowed to be human and make mistakes. It puts pressure on a child to be flawless at all times.
It's better if dad offers more concrete praise and offers support even when a child messes up. Kids should not be afraid to take chances and make mistakes, and that's what labeling them as perfect can do. It can paralyze them because they are afraid their status as flawless is dependent on their efforts.
2 The Kid NEEDS To Be Interested In...
Children are not mini versions of their parents. They might be interested in some of the same things their parents are just because of exposure, but they are not required to play a sport, learn an instrument, or carry on a family tradition just because dad wants them to.
A child needs to follow his individual passion, and that's hard if dad is telling him that he has to follow a certain path to be accepted. Let a child flourish in the area he chooses and encourage his efforts, even if they aren't what was expected. This will make the father/child relationship so much stronger.
1 Exaggerating Difficulty
It’s true that having kids adds challenges to life. It adds joy and beauty, but it does sometimes make previously simple tasks harder to accomplish. Plus, parenting is an emotional journey that leaves parents feeling worn out at the end of many days.
Though this is true, a child doesn’t need to feel like he is the source of difficulty. Kids do what they do because they are children and are still developing. The child needs to feel like he is in a safe place to grow and learn, and a father who makes him feel like every move he makes increases life’s hardships won’t create that kind of environment.
Source: Care.com, Parenting.com, Parents.com