5 things you should never say to your child
After my daughter had interrupted my sewing project for what felt like the hundredth time, I said one of those things you should never say to your child, “Go away so I can finish this!” Her countenance went dark and I immediately tried to back pedal and undo what I had said. Unfortunately imperfect moments happen and there will be times we need to apologize for saying something to our child that we shouldn’t have said. But when you find yourself using the same phrases over and over and not getting the result you want, it’s time to change to something healthier and more effective. Replacing these hurtful phrases with positive things to say to your child will make moments like mine rare. Here are 5 phrases to stop saying immediately.
1. You’re a brat!
Name-calling can be very destructive to kids, especially when it is said by parents. Even if done in jest, your child will still internalize the label. Phrases such as “You’re so…” (lazy, klutzy shy) can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy if your child believes what you say. Vague labeling does not tell your child what behavior they are doing that you don’t approve of, so the negative behavior will continue.
Instead: Focus on describing negative behavior
Use the skill of Observe and Describe to identify specific behaviors that you don’t want your child to do, then describe using behavioral terms so your child knows exactly what to stop. Then explain what you want them to do instead. Focusing on behavior allow your child to understand that it’s the behavior and not them that is the problem.
2. Your sister (brother, friend, etc.) never does that.
Comparison is natural as a parent to give a frame of reference for the milestones your children have reached. However, continual comparison is not healthy. Each child has their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and choices. It may seem encouraging to point out the positive choices other siblings or friends have made, but it has the opposite effect that you want. A child often becomes more resolved not to participate in a behavior because you explain what another child has chosen to do. They may also start to resent the other child as it places them in competition with the other’s behavior. Beyond the initial comparison, your children will learn to compare themselves to others too. And as is seen with the trend in social media culture today, unneeded comparison leads to stress and unhappiness.
Instead: Acknowledge and praise effort
Praise any effort or progress your child makes, no matter how small. Acknowledging any achievements, especially in an area where they struggle, will encourage them to continue working hard to progress further.
3. Great Job!
Praise is essential to positive parenting and is one of the first skills I teach parents when working to change a child’s behavior. However, vague praise such as “Great job!” or “Good boy!” given for all positive behaviors becomes meaningless. Just as name-calling does not tell your child how not to behave, unspecific praise doesn’t tell your child what they should do again. Praise should be focused on effort and improvements.
Instead: Give specific praise
Apply the skill of Effective Praise to make your praise most effective. Effective Praise includes a positive statement, a description what behavior your child did well, a child-centered reason for how it benefits them to use that behavior, and occasionally a reward. Effective Praise is extremely successful at quickly improving a child’s behavior and making a more positive environment in the home.
4. Leave me alone!
Although this is usually said when angry, it can make a child feel that you don’t want them around you long-term. It’s normal for a parent to need some time to themselves, and it is good for children to see you take time for yourself, but when this is said frequently they begin to think there is no time for them and that they are less important than the tasks you need to complete.
Instead: Set up expectations beforehand
If you know you will be preoccupied, set up the time in advance so your child knows you will be busy. However, be realistic about the time frame you will need to spend alone based on your child’s age. You can’t expect a toddler to spend an hour playing alone.
5. Hurry up!
Of all the things you should never say to your child, I am most guilty of using this phrase. With a busy schedule and young children who move at a slow pace, it has become a phrase I use too often. However, telling a child to “Hurry up!” usually makes the situation worse, slowing the process down even more. Your child feels pressured, they either resist or become more anxious and can’t act fast enough, which makes you more angry, and no one gets out the door any faster. We may also make our children feeling guilty for causing us to be late.
Instead: Take a breath and change tactics
Plan ahead by laying out clothes or getting your bag ready the night before so you aren’t in as big of a rush to get out the door. Also plan to leave 10 minutes earlier than you need to so if anything comes up last minute you will still be on time. Even when planning ahead there are going to be times when you are running late. If this happens take a deep breath, try to make a game out of getting ready quickly, and accept that being a few minutes later than planned won’t make a big difference in the long run. Arriving late has a better result when you and your child are not spending time relationship building because of a hurtful comment you made.
When parents say hurtful things, because it will happen occasionally, be forgiving to yourself. Take the time to apologize to your child and repair in what way you can. Then they will instead have the positive memory of your time spent repairing the relationship and be less likely to internalize the hurtful comment.