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7 Toxic Phrases You Should Never Say To Kids

Parenthood isn’t a bed of roses. More than the givers of life, parents are the first ones children look to for support, comfort and guidance. When the going gets tough, it’s easy to forget that these kids – yes, the very ones who are experts at causing utter chaos and driving us up the wall – are relying on us for absolutely everything.

Our words, behaviour and actions leave a mark on these highly impressionable children. Despite our best intentions, certain unassuming but toxic phrases and words can set the stage to unhealthy consequences for the child’s self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. Ahead, we share seven key phrases parents should avoid saying to children. 

“Don’t be so _____.”

Talkative, rude, loud, shy, sensitive… the list of words goes on. There will be plenty of instances where your child doesn’t behave the way you want them to, and telling them not to be the way they are, won’t resolve their behaviour. Or give them the confidence and desire needed to behave better. Use positive reinforcement instead of being critical. It’s all about the words you use! Try “Be more appreciative” instead of saying, “Don’t be ungrateful”, or “How about looking at it from another point of view?” instead of “Stop being so narrow minded.”

“You aren’t _____ enough!”

This phrase essentially tells a child that they are lacking, implying that they aren’t good enough for you. Left unaddressed, this may lead to growing feelings of low self-worth that will affect your child later in life. Instead of harping on what your child isn’t “enough” of, try saying, “You are ____ enough. Let’s work harder at it!”

“You are a rotten kid!”

This phrase should never be used, no matter how infuriating a child is. While their actions may not be good, it doesn’t reflect on your child as a whole – being unnecessarily harsh might even backfire and cause the kid to lash out even more. Instead, gently explain to your child that “what you did was bad because _____”. Helping them understand why their behaviour was wrong, and how to improve, will go a longer way.

“I sacrificed everything for you!”

Plenty of parents do this, perhaps in a bid to “guilt trip” their offspring into becoming more appreciative. But hey, sacrificing for your kid kinda comes with the territory of being a parent. Your kid doesn’t “owe” you for giving them life. Trying to imply otherwise may lead to them feeling like nuisances, and drive a wedge into your relationship. Basically, it’s toxic behaviour that should be nipped in the bud.

“Stop asking questions!”

Kids are innately curious – it helps them explore, learn about and understand the world around them. Answering the many questions they have can be annoying, but supporting their curiosity helps to foster learning in a positive way. We find that it helps to give kids a direct answer on your knowledge and what your child can understand. For example, “How do fish breathe underwater?” Your response can simply be “because they have special organs called ‘gills’, which help them breathe underwater.”

Alternatively, to facilitate deeper thinking while making it fun, ask them, “How do YOU think they breathe?” and listen to your child’s original (and adorable) answers.

“Why can’t you be more like _____”

We’ve all heard this one, even from our own parents. Point blank, drawing comparisons between children is unhealthy and bad for their self-esteem. It can even lead to constant attempts to win approval on your child’s part, or feelings of inadequacy while trying to measure up to the other child.

Instead of setting comparisons, acknowledge and accept your child’s flaws. It begins a positive starting point to help your little one move forward and improve.

“You must be win/be the best!”

As it is, we’re living in an ultra competitive society that seemingly rewards the motivated and driven. However, grooming your child into a “must win at all costs” mentality narrows their focus. Instead of being able to enjoy and learn from the experience, they concentrate solely on the prize. Bringing this mentality into adulthood may lead to your child missing out on precious moments, and giving up on other much worthier things in order to “win”.

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