5 Things to Never Say to Your Child

written by Dr. Jazmine, the Mom Psychologist

You speak anywhere from 7,000 to 14,000 words a day. 

In the vast sea of so many words, there are certain words and phrases that stick out in the human mind – those which are said out of anger. 

There are just certain things you don’t say as parents. As adults, we carry a lot of power especially through our words. 

They have the ability to either build our children up or tear them down. To connect or push our kids away. To breed self-confidence and self-love or self-doubt and shame. 

So in this letter, I’m shooting it to you straight. 

I’m going to share the top 5 things to avoid saying to your child and why. 

Avoid these phrases like the plague. Just don’t say them. You can never take back what you said out of anger and children don’t forget them.

1. “You’re making me angry!”

No one “makes” you angry. Yes, their behaviors influence your thoughts and feelings but your child is not to blame for your anger and what you do out of anger. 

Making someone else responsible for your feelings is a subtle form of manipulation. It’s a way of saying, “I feel powerless and that makes me angry. I want you to do what I say so I’m going to try to make you feel scared and guilty so you’ll submit to me.” 

This dynamic leads to deep disconnection in the parent-child relationship. It also causes your child to experience fear which causes one of 3 responses:

During periods of stress, our bodies do one of these three things to protect ourselves. As parents we want to be very cautious of being the source of fear. 

It’s a very scary place for a child to know you are angry and feel to blame for your feelings of intense anger. 

Another thing to remember is that whenever we blame others for how we feel we immediately give our power away. Now it’s on them to “fix us” and that’s impossible. Anger is an inside job. And if we make others to blame, we avoid taking accountability for changing our life and our mindset. 

So, instead try something like…

“We’re having a hard moment right now. I’m noticing that I’m starting to feel angry right now. It’s my job to calm my body down…”

Modeling how to label emotions and the ways you manage your feelings teaches emotional regulation and builds trust.

Always remember: Children are not responsible for calming adults down. 

It’s our job to be the calm and mature person in the relationship, not theirs.

2. “You’re dumb.”

The ways in which we speak to our kids becomes their inner voice. If we tell them that they are stupid, or any other critical statement, they will believe us. 

Criticism can come in various forms. There’s the more blatant form of criticism that sounds like a put down (e.g., “You’re so careless.”, “Stop being so stupid.”, “Quit being so annoying.”) and then there’s more subtle forms that are disguised as jokes and sarcasm meant to correct behavior. 

Research tells us children of critical parents are more likely to use avoidant coping skills (e.g., procrastination, rumination, being passive-aggressive) and even avoid others’ emotional facial expressions, both positive and negative. This can negatively impact their relationships, limiting their capacity to read and understand social cues and the emotional world of others. When children are exposed to chronic criticism from their parents and caregivers, they come to expect this type of treatment from others. 

When children get it “wrong,” focus on problem solving (not wallowing in negativity). As my mom always said, “If you’re not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” This phrase always rings in my mind whenever I encounter issues with my children. It reminds me that:

Remember – In the heat of the moment, choose your words very carefully. Children don’t forget the things we say out of anger.

If you need help with managing your parenting triggers so that you can show up as the parent you want to be during hard times, then check out my online parenting program, Positive Discipline Academy. It covers not only how to stay level-headed as a parent, but how to teach our child the same skill. 

3. “Why can’t you be more like your sibling?!”

We might say these things in an effort to motivate our child to make different choices but it doesn’t matter what our intentions are. What matters is our impact – how our words make our children feel. 

Whenever we draw comparisons between siblings we are fueling sibling rivalry (and hatred) as well as low self-esteem within our child. Not only this, but the child you are saying is the “better” one now feels immense pressure to measure up to your standards (or risk being dropped in status). 

This is an unhealthy place for both our children. 

Avoid any form of comparison (good or bad) and keep your statements focused on:

Children begin to make better choices when they feel better about themselves and their position in the family. As a parent, you are the one they look to for these messages. Whenever you compare siblings, you are inevitably pitting one against the other and saying one is “better” and more “favored” than the other.  

4. “Stop talking to me! Go away!”

It’s common to shut down and want everyone to leave you alone when you feel overwhelmed with parenting. 

However, take responsibility for taking space rather than forcing your child away. 

This sounds like, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now and need space. I’m going to go grab some water. I’ll be back.” And then take time to debrief after everyone has cooled off.

5. “Why are you being so difficult? What’s wrong with you?”

This is worth stating again – When your child’s behavior starts to overwhelm you, take a step back and focus on problem solving. 

Instead of asking them a question that puts them down, ask, “How can we work together? What do we need to do to solve this problem?” 

If you as the parent are not taking steps to actively address the problem, you have become a part of the problem. 

Try to focus your energy on problem solving rather than blaming and criticizing.

In summary, avoid phrases that:

Instead, when you find yourself overwhelmed with parenting:

Words are powerful. What we say matters. 

Our children look up to us in ways we often take for granted. They look to us for direction on what to think about themselves, others, and the world around them. 

Part of avoiding saying things out of anger is not even thinking this about your child. When you find yourself going to a negative place, notice it and ‘re-direct the plane’ so-to-speak. Parenting is 80% mindset. Mindset is what influences our feelings and decisions as parents. So work on your mindset first. 

I know I’ve been shooting it to you straight in this letter. Can you tell I’m passionate about children’s self-esteem and overall well-being?

I want to end, though, with a discussion on how important it is to offer ourselves compassion as parents when we screw up and say things we don’t really mean. 

We can’t shame ourselves into better parenting. When we make mistakes, punishing ourselves with negative self-talk does the same thing that it does to children – leads to low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and doubt. 

There’s a fine line between taking accountability and shaming ourselves. 

So yes, it’s imperative we take responsibility for our mistakes and the things you say and do out of anger AND it’s also so important we don’t stay in the place of dwelling on the issue (or trying to tear ourselves apart). 

Again, going back to what I said earlier – if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re a part of the problem. 

Anger is an inside job. It’s on us to self-reflect and take the action we need to change our life and our mindset. 

Our confidence as parents depends on it (as does our child’s).

For courses, books, free tools and more – visit Jazmine's website here

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