It’s OK to lose it once in a while — we’re all human. But as parents, we have an obligation to think about what we say to our kids before we open our mouths. Here are nine things we shouldn’t be saying to our children on a regular basis.
1. What’s wrong with you?
Our kids depend on us for everything at every age and stage of their development. When we communicate to them that we can’t figure them out (even if that is actually how we feel) we’re basically telling them they can’t count on us. “That’s very unsettling to your dependent child,” warns Vancouver-based child psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.
2. You owe me
Parenting isn’t a payback system. Children don’t ask to be born, and the responsibility for caring for them lies solely with their parents. “If you, as the adult you are, decide to gift your child something special, then allow that to sit as a ‘gift’ rather than a burden for them to bear,” adds Lapointe.
3. Man up
Typically, the phrase “man up” is delivered with a laugh or a ruffle of the hair because it’s all meant in fun, right? Perhaps that’s the intention, but it’s one of the most destructive phrases we can say to our kids according to documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom. In her 2015 film The Mask You Live In, Siebel Newsom condemns the short, heavily-gendered phrases that far too easily trip off parents’ tongues. Instead, we need to teach our kids that strength and weakness have nothing to do with sex and gender.
4. You’re so naughty
Young children believe everything their parents tell them, meaning giving our kids negative labels (you’re so bad/naughty/stupid/lazy) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead to low self-esteem. “It’s important not to personalize when providing discipline (i.e., we might say that someone’s behavior is not appropriate, which is very different than saying ‘you are bad’),” says New York-based clinical psychologist Jephtha Tausig-Edwards, known as Dr. Jeph.
5. You will do that because I am your mom and I said so
It’s possible to be a strong, influential parent and a nurturing, supportive one without turning into a control freak. “Your power as a parent should come from your relationship with your child, not your role. Be a strong, nurturing parent and you won’t have to resort to power-mongering tactics,” says Lapointe.
6. Go to your room and come back when you can behave
At the core of every parent-child relationship is connection. By telling our child to leave us alone when their behavior doesn’t meet our standards, we are breaking that connection. “Your child needs his connection to you. Literally to survive,” says Lapointe. “Why would you ever put your connection with your child on the line in order to secure good behavior?”
7. You always…/You never…
Nobody wants their past indiscretions to be used against them over and over again. It’s not productive or supportive to remind our kids of the mistakes they made yesterday, last week or a year ago, says Dr. Jeph. The last message we want to give to our kids is that they never do anything right.
8. That’s not for boys/girls
“We develop the concept of gender equality from day one in our actions and the language we use,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Stacey Radin. This means parents need to be aware of how their words can create gender bias, be it through expecting kids to be drawn to certain types of toys and activities or discouraging them from pursuing certain interests or professions.
9. You shouldn’t feel that way
Any statement that makes a child question their own thoughts and emotions has the potential to cause harm. According to New York-based clinical psychotherapist Dana Carretta, this can lead to a people-pleasing mentality and leave young people confused about their own identity. “This is because the child has internalized the belief that what they think or feel is unimportant or wrong,” says Carretta. “Other internalized beliefs that they may develop are ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I am worthless,’ ‘It’s my fault,’ or ‘I cannot safely say/show how I feel.'” Other phrases with a similar effect include “You’re so sensitive” and “You’re acting like a baby.”