Five Things to Avoid Telling Your Children

By Nissi Unger

Howard Jackson Brown Jr., bestselling author of Life’s Little Instruction Book, said, “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.” While raising children is a tough job for anybody, the rewards of doing so are far greater than any company benefits I ever came across. Here are some things not to say to your child.

  1. “Leave me alone. Don’t bother me now. I am busy.” Telling a child repeatedly not to bother you makes him or her feel alone and unimportant. Suzette Haden Elgin, PhD, founder of the Ozark Center for Language Studies, in Huntsville, Arkansas, says, “They begin to think there’s no point in talking to you because you’re always brushing them off.” Certainly though, there are times — like when you’re finishing dinner preparations, taking an important p hone call or getting ready to go to work — that do take precedence over the child’s need to show you his artwork. So instead of telling your child not to “bother” you, set a limit or a timeframe. For example, “When I get off the phone, we will look at your arts and crafts together.”

  2. “Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother/neighbor/friend?” It’s so natural for parents to compare siblings or their own child to a neighbor or friend, especially if the y’re the same age. But comparing children to others is not fair. Each child has different needs and emotions and may develop at a different rate than siblings or friends. Comparing children makes a child feel inadequate and not good enough, often leading to problems of low self-esteem and resentment if the phrase is often repeated. Instead of comparing, look out for each milestone your child has reached and compliment that. Instead of saying, “Why can’t you close your own buttons like your friend Miri does?” you can say instead, “I see you already close your snaps alone every day! Wow, you are a big girl.”

  1. “You always …” or “You never …” Telling your son he that never uses his napkin or always leaves his socks near his bed will only reinforce the behavior you are desperately trying to avoid. Then, it becomes more likely that the child will repeat that behavior because children become what you tell them they are. Besides, t here is no point in making a child feel bad about yesterday. Children should learn that in mature, healthy relationships they should focus on the issue at hand and how to correct that, not on past misdeeds and arguments. Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids claims, “At the heart of ‘You always’ and ‘You never’ statements are labels that can stick for life.” Instead of telling your child, “You never remember to bring home your homework,” try this, says Dr. Berman: “I notice you seem to have trouble remembering to bring home your textbooks. What can we do to try to help you remember?”

  1. “Let me help you get it right.” It’s tough watching your three-year-old struggle to tie her laces. It’s even tougher watching your seventeen-month-old dribbling soup all over herself as she tries to eat alone. But telling your kids to relinquish their independence so you can help them do it right is not the answer. They learn to stop trying. It’s hard not to show a child the right way to do things, especially if you are a perfectionist. “But that’s a mistake, because then she never learns how, and is less likely to try anything else you ask down the line,” says Dr. Berman.
    In fact, a friend of mine advised me to allow my fiercely independent sixteen-month-old to eat alone. She suggested I put a huge disposable plastic tablecloth underneath his high chair. I did so and never tried to show him the “right” way to eat. At eighteen months he was feeding himself everything, including soup. I have followed this protocol with the rest of my children. As soon as they fight for the spoon I allow them a month of “learning” how to eat on their own and they eat alone from about eighteen months of age easily. Never underestimate the capabilities of a toddler.

  1. “I am ashamed of you/disappointed in you.” There is never a reason to make a child feel like a failure or a disgrace to his or her family. It is also important for a child to know that you will always love him or her no matter how badly they messed up. I have a routine with my kid s where I ask them all the time “Do you know why I love you?” And they know to answer, “Just plain. Because you are my mom.” Try relaying this message to your child by saying, “Even though I feel bad about what you said/did, I still love you for who you are and I hope you will never do that again.” Or, to express disappointment in a kid who got into trouble at school or failed his test, you can say, “I wasn’t expecting the principal to call me today about the trouble you made at school.” Then you get into a respectful dialogue how to change the behavior you are talking about.


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