Sometimes we say things to our kids that we immediately wish we could take back. But sometimes we’re not aware of our verbal mistakes of parenting until someone else (usually a spouse) points them out. Charlotte Hilton Anderson has “50 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Your Kids.” Here are a few doozies to consider. See if you agree:
“YOU DID GREAT ON YOUR TEST, BUT WHY CAN’T YOU DO THAT ALL THE TIME?”
“When a compliment is immediately followed by a ‘but’, it places the focus on the negative instead of the positive. All the positive reinforcement, self-esteem boost, and motivation gained from the compliment are lost as soon as ‘but’ is uttered,” explains Adelle Cadieux, a pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
One rule of good parenting is to only use positive words, even when you are pointing out the negative. It sounds minor, even trivial, but instead of saying “Your behavior is bad,” instead try “Your behavior is not good.” There is a subtle but important difference. A better way to rephrase the quote above: “You did great on your test. Let’s try to do that all the time.”
“IT’S MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!”
Think laying down the law will turn your kids into perfect citizens? It may have the opposite effect, according to research published in the Journal of Adolescence. The study found that authoritarian parents are more likely to raise disrespectful, delinquent children who do not see them as legitimate authority figures than parents who listen to their children and gain their respect and trust.
“YOU MAKE ME SO MAD!”
“The number one job of a parent is to stay calm no matter what happens. Aside from the fact that we usually say things we later regret when we’re angry or frustrated, staying calm also models for our children how we want them to behave. This is especially true for parents of kids who tend to get easily upset,” explains Timothy Gunn, a licensed clinical psychologist.
Saying this accomplishes nothing because, since your child is your child and not your friend, he/she doesn’t care if you are mad. Furthermore, this is not about you. It’s their behavior that needs to change, not yours. The word “mad” is an angry word; “disappointed” works better (at a lower volume, too) because you reinforce a level of expectation that your kids need to understand. But wait:
“I’M DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.”
“These words are often spoken to kids at times when they already feel bad. Trying to make them responsible for your disappointment only adds to their pain,” says Lisa Cavallaro, author of No More Drama: How to Make Peace With Your Defiant Kid.
Regarding behavior, I don’t agree with this one. You are the parent. It is you who is setting boundaries and expectations. When they go beyond the limits you set or their behavior doesn’t meet the expectations you have, expressing disappointment (not anger or frustration) can be very powerful. However, I don’t think parents should judge their children’s performances (sports, creative, etc.) by expressing disappointment. They’ll be feeling bad enough without their parents making them feel worse.
I WISH YOU WOULD BE MORE LIKE [INSERT OTHER KID’S NAME HERE]”
“Every child has strengths and challenges that are unique to them. Children should not be compared to others, but reminded that their differences are just part of being human,” says Kornblum.
In the same vein:
“WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR SISTER/BROTHER?”
“UGH. YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER/FATHER.”
“This would be a good thing if followed by something positive, but too often this is said when the child is exhibiting a behavior one parent finds unfavorable in the other parent,” Ms. Rice says. “This not only sends the message that the child is being rejected, but that the other parent is, too, creating a divide where a child is forced to identify with or pick a side to please a particular parent.”
Read the rest of this article about what not to say to your kids in Redbook here.