What You Should Never Say to Your Kids

I read an article that was interesting from an April 2014 issue of Parents magazine and I had to echo to you all that they shared in the stated article.  This article starts by sharing first the common sense phrases that we shouldn’t say to our kids, things like, “Wait until your father gets home,” or “Timmy is the smart one,” or even “I wish you could act more like your brother.” These are not helpful for your kids’ development and you shouldn’t say these things to them ever or avoid these phrases completely.

Here are the words the article shared that we also shouldn’t say.  “Great Job.”  If you recall from a previous blog post, the 3-part series about mindset, telling the child they did great would be counterproductive to the growth mindset. It’s a fixed mindset phrase along with, “Timmy is a good boy,” or “you’re a winner.”  Get kids to think about what they have done, good or bad.  Let them come to their own conclusions because they will not have you to quantify their success or failure and therefore shouldn’t become dependent on what you say for motivation.

How about the saying, “practice makes perfect?”  I am guilty of using this one often and at first, I wasn’t sure why this was added to the list.  The problem with that phrase is the word, “perfect” because it’s too high of a bar to set for our kids.  Of course, with practice comes improvement, but let’s not get carried away with expecting perfection.  Instead, use words that relate they can improve with trying many times over. Let’s not set them up for failure right off the bat with the expectations of being perfect at what they are trying to improve about themselves.

How about this one, “You’re okay.”  I’m guilty of this again as well when my kid hurts himself or has their feelings hurt, it’s easy for us to try to pacify them and tell them that everything is ok, or they will be okay.  The fact is, when we say this, we are discounting how they feel at that moment. They do not FEEL ok at all. Instead, you should as a parent, acknowledge how they feel and rephrase the situation so that they know that you understand what they are going through at that moment.  Hold them, hug them, show them empathy and you will be making both your bond stronger and then genuinely making them feel like they will be ok based on your actions and not just your words.

This one I think I use every single day with my kids, “hurry up!”  Your kid will struggle to get out of bed, refuse to eat their vegetables in even 5% of the time they can swallow a slice of pizza.  The fact is, yelling at them to hurry up just adds more stress to what an already stressful situation for them is.  However, we have things to do, places to be and need to get their little behind in gear.   If your kids are really young, turn it into a game like, “let’s have a race to see who can get their shoes on first?” or show the kids you are all trying to accomplish the same goals and are on the same side by using soft tones to express the urgency in getting out of the door to make it to school on time. “Let’s hurry please, it’s 7:30 am and it takes 15 minutes to drive to school and we will be late if we don’t get there by 8 am.”  When I did this, I found my twin boys were actually starting to ask me what time it was and make more of an effort to make us all on time.

How about this phrase, “I’m on a diet.”  Also, from a previous blog, we talked about how dieting doesn’t work.  Sharing this information that you are dieting with your kids can develop into an unhealthy body image for your kids.  Let’s teach them to eat healthy, which is good for them and what foods they should cut down on.  Sure, I’ll give them that sugar-laden cereal every once in a long while, not every day and not even every week for that matter.  I will also buy them ice cream on a hot day but most of the time I will give and share with them treats like baby carrots, blueberries, pineapple(but not often because it’s a high glycemic index fruit), strawberries and blackberries as examples of other food items that are healthier choices. Good for them, and it’s good for you.

“That’s too expensive or unaffordable,” and although it may be true, for a child it’s a hard concept for them to understand.  The kids get the message that you are not in control of your finances and even worse, may call you out on this if they see you turn around and buy a new $400 robot vacuum cleaner.  Instead, teach the kids the value of money when it’s appropriate to do so for their age. For the teenagers, it wouldn’t hurt for them to get a summer job to appreciate the hard work that goes into making a dollar.  You can tell the younger ones that you can’t buy them every single thing they see at the store because you need to save the family’s money for important items.  This also would be a teachable moment if they can’t get this concept to cover the importance of budgeting and balancing the bills against the paycheck every couple of weeks or months.

Remember when we were young and were told, “never talk to strangers?”  The problem with this idea is that a stranger can act nice and twist the kids’ mind into thinking they aren’t a stranger.  Plus, kids may take this rule the wrong way and resist the help of police officers or firefighters whom they don’t know, says Nancy McBride, executive director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Florida Regional Office, in Lake Park.  The article from “Parents” magazine instead said bring up scenarios (“What would you do if a man you don’t know offers you candy and a ride home?”), and have the kids explain what they would do?  Correct them when they make a bad choice in these scenarios you proposed.  “If anyone makes you feel sad, scared, or confused, you need to tell me right away.”

What about telling the kids to, “be careful?”  If the kids are doing something dangerous, telling them to be careful will cause the child to lose focus and make them more likely to slip up.  If they are doing something that you are worried about, either move into position slowly and quietly to catch them if they fall, or just stop them from doing what they are doing in the first place and explain to them why you are apprehensive about their actions.

Guilty again of this one too, “no dessert unless you finish your dinner.”  The article said that “this expression increases a child’s perceived value of the treat and diminishes his enjoyment of the meal itself — the opposite of what you want to accomplish,” a quote from the author of the Always Hungry book, David Ludwig.  “First we eat our meal and then we have dessert.” The wording change, though subtle, has a far more positive impact on your child.

The last phrase I have on this list is, “let me help.”  Often when we see the kids struggle with a task, we want to just pick it up and do it for them.  But if we do, how will they learn to do it themselves?  “If you jump in too soon, that can undermine your child’s independence because he’ll always be looking to others for answers,” says Myrna Shure, Ph.D., author of Raising a Thinking Child.  You should instead handle it by guiding them with your words and not your actions with questions like if they had trouble with a puzzle in this example, “Do you think the big piece or the little one should go at the bottom? Why do you think that? Let’s give it a try.”

Let’s remember that what we say to our kids has a profound impact on what kind of young adults they become later on in life.  Set a strong foundation now so that you don’t have a rocky relationship with them or stunt the developmental growth of your children at the expense of your mutual tomorrows.