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 phrases 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 just exasperated, worn out, and likely at our wits-end with parenthood. But it’s best if we know what to stay away from rather than discover it after the damage has been done. So here are five things you should never say to your child and what’s really at the root of your words.
“Why would you do that?”
If we are asking this question to discover our child’s motivations behind a behavior, then using this phrase can absolutely be appropriate at times — that is, if it is asked in a sincere manner. If this is not our goal, we should avoid this phrase altogether. Many times, the root of this accusatory question is demeaning.
Instead, we should strive to use simple phrases to identify the behavior and explain why it is unwelcome. For example, “I see you dumped all of 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. Maybe next time you should keep them in your bowl so you can eat them instead.”
“You are driving me crazy right now”
Saying this indicates there is a direct link between our child’s behavior and our sanity. As hard as this is to admit, our children are not responsible for our actions or feelings. The root of this phrase is rage and will often add to the stress level of the situation.
As hard as this is to admit, our children are not responsible for our actions or feelings.
If you find yourself saying this when you kiddo has an abnormal amount of energy, try saying something like, “Wow, you have a ton of energy right now! Unfortunately, mommy does not 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?”
“You have been so bad all day!”
Characterizing our child’s overall behavior as “bad” is never productive or healthy. Even if it seems like they have been misbehaving every second of the day, this is probably not entirely true. 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 in with “bad” behavior by offering a blanket statement like this. The root of a phrase 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.”
“Don’t you want mommy to be happy?”
This one is similar to, “You’re driving me crazy right now.” It draws a connection between our child’s behavior and our contentment and it’s dangerous. Placing our ability to be happy on our child’s plate is an unhealthy parenting behavior. The root of a phrase like this is manipulation.
If we want to let our child know that we like something he or she does, we should say just that. An example of this looks like, “I really like when you eat your vegetables for dinner! Did you know vegetables help make you grow big and strong?”
“I’m not talking to you until you start behaving right.”
Withholding love and affection from a child in an attempt to obtain a desired behavior or nip an undesired behavior in the bud is a big no-no in parenting. Using phrases like this in parenting sends our children the message that it is okay to do this with others. The root of this phrase 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 my body. I would love to play with you, but I don’t want to get hurt. So I think I am going to 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?