5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child

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It is easy to let our thoughts roll off the tongue as we parent our children—especially when they misbehave or push our buttons. All too often, we react to our children’s behavior with words that are unhelpful and sometimes even harmful. I know the times I’ve done this, I immediately regret it.

We don’t mean for our words to be discouraging or hurtful. We are exasperated, worn out, and likely at our wit’s end with parenthood. But it’s best to know what to avoid rather than discover it after the damage has been done. Will some of these still slip occasionally? Yes. That’s when we have to give ourselves some grace. But keep these 5 in the back of your mind as things you should never say to your child and consider what’s really at their roots.

1. “Why would you do that?”

If you’re asking this question to discover your child’s motivation behind a behavior, then using this phrase can be appropriate at times—that is, if it is asked sincerely. If this is not your goal, you should avoid it altogether. Many times, the root of this accusatory question is demeaning.

Instead, strive to use simple sentences to identify the behavior and explain why it is unwelcomeFor example, “I see you dumped all your goldfish in the toilet. Unfortunately, that is not where the goldfish like to be, and now we can’t enjoy them as a yummy snack. Next time, you should keep them in your bowl so you can eat them instead.”

2. “You are driving me crazy right now.”

Saying this indicates there is a direct link between your child’s behavior and your sanity. As hard as this is to admit, our children are not responsible for our actions or feelings. The root of this one is rage and will often add to the stress level of the situation.

If you find yourself saying this when your kiddo has an abnormal amount of energy, try saying something like, “Wow, you have a ton of energy right now! Unfortunately, I don’t have quite as much as you do. Why don’t we take some time to settle down by reading a book together? Then we can play.”

3. “You have been so bad all day!”

Characterizing your child as “bad” is never productive or healthy. Even if it seems like he’s been misbehaving every second of the day, it’s probably not entirely true, and he definitely isn’t “bad.” For example, if your child shared his toys with his friend during a morning play date, you would not want to group this positive behavior with “bad” behavior by offering a blanket statement like this. The root of a sentence like this is shaming.

Instead, avoid exaggerating and try using specific phrases that are less accusatory. For example, “You seemed to have difficulty following instructions this afternoon. I think we should go over the rules we have for lunchtime.” Or focus on the good behavior you’ve seen, like “The way you cleaned up after breakfast was really helpful. Let’s try to show some of that behavior at lunch.”

4. “Don’t you want mom to be happy?”

This one draws a connection between your child’s behavior and your contentment, and it’s dangerous. Placing your ability to be happy on your child’s plate is an unhealthy parenting behavior. The root of a sentence like this is manipulation.

If you want to let your child know you like something he or she does, say it. An example is, “I really like when you eat your vegetables for dinner! Did you know vegetables help make you grow big and strong?”

5. “I’am not talking to you until you start behaving right”

Withholding love and affection from a child to obtain a desired behavior tells your kids your love is conditional. Using phrases like this also sends our children the message that it is OK to do this with others. The root of this is threat.

Instead, try saying something like, “You keep throwing things at me, and I’m not sure why. It hurts my feelings, and it also hurts me physically. I would love to play with you but don’t want to get hurt. So, I think I will have to sit this one out until I know you are ready to play safely.”

What would you add to the list of things you should never say to your child?