What Not to Say to Kids

There are the obvious things you should never, under any circumstances …no matter how extreme, utter to your child. Things like, “I wish you were never born,” “I hate you,” “No one likes you,” and “You killed Santa.” If you are a reader of the Care2 website and reading this particular article, you have likely never uttered such offensive and damaging remarks to anyone (at least anyone over the age of 21). Then there are the things we may, on occasion and out of dire parental frustration, say to our children. These are comments, not meant to be cutting and subversive, but nevertheless they are. Recently Shine from Yahoo compiled 5 things parents just shouldn’t say to their children and they are as follows:

“I’m going to leave without you!”
“Say you’re sorry!”
“Act your age!”
“Don’t you get it?”
“I don’t care.”

Just reading these out loud you are likely struck by two thoughts: one is “I think I understand why these are not positive and constructive things to say to a child, and “I think I have probably said these to my child, on occasion.” Not to worry, unless you routinely greet your child in the early morning with “I don’t care” or “I’m going to leave without you!” there is likely time to reverse the damage from whatever had been said in the past. While children are highly impressionable, they are also resilient and sometimes even forgiving.

But 5 is never enough. I do believe there are other utterances that should never (or seldom) be directed toward children and here are my additions to the list:



“Good boy” or “Good girl”

This sort of pseudo-praise is just utterly meaningless to a child over the age of two (and it is questionable if it means anything to the pre-two set). Children just automatically begin to tune it out, especially if it is said often and indiscriminately. They begin to develop a sense of when the praise is real, or just a rote parental response. Instead of “good boy “ or “good girl” praise the behavior, not the child, and be specific. Say “You did a lot of hard work on that block tower and you made them all balance” and you could even offer praise like, “I think it looks fantastic, do you like it?” because it allows them to evaluate their own efforts.

“Don’t cry”

This is just such a BS thing to say to a child, and if they are not riddled with shame upon hearing it, they are probably working up to a timely resentment toward you. Children cry because life is frequently overwhelming to them and they have yet to develop emotional control (not to mention their prefrontal cortex). Instead, try acknowledging their feelings and (as the adult) giving them the words and ability to express what they are feeling (e.g. “I see you are feeling very sad about loosing your balloon…”). By doing this, you are demonstrating how to speak to sadness and disappointment while demonstrating true empathy.


“Say hello to…”
This one is a thorny one for me, largely because I am guilty of saying it to my child, while simultaneously regretting it. While I think it is important to teach our children to interact with others in a way that is engaged and polite, making that engagement forced and compulsory is just not the way. By coercing our children into having conversations, or even greetings, with others we are telling them they are not in control of their social interactions and letting them know it is acceptable to tell others when and how to talk. Children develop their social abilities over time, and expecting them to comfortably and consistently conform to our social attitudes is a bit unrealistic. Instead, I would (and I try) to say something like, “This is Mr. Smith, and would you like to say hello right now?”

And there are others, like “You are so…” and “Just leave me alone!” These seem somewhat obvious to me and shouldn’t require too much explanation as to why they are not constructive ways to engage with your child. And there are likely so many more. What things do you often hear parents saying to children that you object to? Is there something you have said to your child in the past that you have changed, and if so, where the results positive? What encouraging and positive things can be said in place of some of the above negative comments?

82 comments

V Madonna Schizoid
Past Member 2 years ago

One day my mom said that I had no dignity because I was going out and my hair just didn't look good enough. EW.

Dale Overall

Words that scar and do damage are not to be used, think back of the nasty things that some parents may have said to you when you were growing up. Do you use the same words when angry? I was lucky enough to have parents that did not verbally abuse me when my behaviour was somewhat naughty.

There are some parents who use words that are totally unacceptable and of course some who could care less about what the effects are. They forget that young children do take things quite literally. Admonishing a child while being firm, corrective and guiding can be done without cruel comments.

Anger can bring out our negative side but try to think first before saying things like "I wish you had never been born!" and things like that.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

Wow black pedagogy... sends shivers down my back, thanks for posting!

mariana c.
mariana c.3 years ago

thanks, there are obvious things, but sometimes we don't pay attention

Lazy N.
Lazy N.3 years ago

This article is really helpful for me. Hope that I can keep these things in mind when I'm older and have children.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V.3 years ago

Thank you

Michele Wilkinson

Interesting.
Thanks

Mehrayin Mohammadi
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Emily J.
Emily jutsum3 years ago

thanks this is a key issue!