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Psychologists Warn To Never Use These 5 Phrases When Talking To Your Child

Words matter, especially the ones told to children. Words can leave a lasting impact on them, how they see the world and themselves for better or worse. While most parents avoid threatening and derogatory language, they may use common phrases that seem helpful but could have the opposite effect. Here are the innocent-sounding phrases you should avoid, and here’s what psychologists recommend instead.

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5 Phrases You Should Never Say to Your Kids

1. Use your words

This phrase is often used to encourage children to talk about what’s upsetting them instead of crying or acting out. However, most of the time the kids don’t know what words to use, and in their upset state, it’s difficult to think of any, which is why they turned to sobbing and shouting.

Instead, Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, recommends helping the child by offering the specific words they are looking for. “You can tell your brother, ‘Move please.’ You can tell your sister, ‘I’d like a turn.’ Put the words right in their mouth,” she says. [1]

Read: Signs of Anxiety in Children: Emotional, Behavioral, Physical, and How to Help

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2. No thank you

Recently, parents have begun saying “no thank you” instead of “stop” or “don’t.” At first glance, this makes sense. After all, they are trying to model politeness for their children. However, Markham says “no thank you” is intended to mean “I don’t want that but thank you for offering it.” But when it’s used to soften a no, it sends a mixed message to kids, who may not understand why their behavior isn’t acceptable.

Sometimes, it’s best to use an assertive no, especially to stop dangerous or inappropriate behavior, followed by a firm but kind explanation. And if you use “no thank you” instead of “no” correct yourself. This also models the ability to backtrack and fix a mistake, an important lesson on its own.

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3. Good job

While positive affirmation is a good thing, it must be phrased effectively. “Good job” is an example of a compliment that can backfire. These kinds of praises can make children driven by external affirmation instead of their natural curiosity and internal motivations. Plus, phrases like “good job” and “so proud of you” don’t effectively validate and appreciate the children because they may sound like a reflex or a simple nicety. Also, these kinds of compliments are based on achievements, which can suggest that approval is conditional on when the child is achieving or behaving properly. This could lead to a decrease in self-esteem.

Instead, mirror the child’s feeling about the accomplishment with phrases like “you did it!” You can also describe the task and compliment how the child overcame it. “I see you worked out that puzzle all by yourself. You really persevered.” This teaches the child about the benefits of their achievement, which can encourage them to repeat it or do something similar. While “I’m proud of you” sounds similar to “you must feel so proud of yourself,” they send different messages. [2]

Read: The sad reality of children’s beauty pageants

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4. You’re so smart/You’re the best

Phrases like these can put pressure on children. American psychologist Carol Dweck stated that kids who hear this believe they should do things right on their first try. Instead of working to improve their skills, they think their abilities are fixed. For instance, a parent could tell a child they’re so smart for solving math problems but as soon as they see an equation they can’t solve, they’ll assume they’re not that smart after all. Overall, telling a child they’re the best at something puts pressure on them and they could think their parents’ love depends on their performance. 

Alternatively, choose phrases that praise effort and note how much the child seems to be enjoying a certain activity. “What parents need to know,” Markham says, “is that the best kind of encouragement is to enjoy what your child is doing.” 

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5. We can’t afford that

Financial stress can take a toll on a household but kids should not feel the burden. Plus, they shouldn’t feel like money is an all-powerful entity that controls their life. This could give them a lot of undue anxiety and an unhealthy relationship with money when they get older. Instead, teach kids, according to their level, how to budget and take control over finances, according to Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do.

For instance, if kids ask for a trip to Disney World, don’t just say “we can’t afford that.” Say “the tickets do not fit into our budget this year.” You can also discuss how you arrange the budget and prioritize money, and if they are inclined, help them brainstorm ways for them to save their allowances and jobs to buy the tickets. [3]

Keep Reading: Man abandoned by his Dad at 14, makes videos teaching children what dads normally teach kids

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Sources

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  1. “8 parenting phrases you probably say that can totally backfire.” Today’s Parent. Gail Caronwall. April 16, 2021
  2. “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids.Parents. Michelle Crouch. February 1, 2022
  3. “A psychotherapist shares the 5 phrases parents should never say to their kids—and what to use instead.” CNBC. Amy Morin. November 1, 2019
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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