Five Things to Never Say to a Child

Five Things to Never Say to a Child

Words, at times, can be sharper than a sword. They can injure and leave scars for a long time. Other times they build up inside us like bricks, conditioning us and blocking us.

No parent is perfect, and this article is only meant to help us evaluate if the communication we have established with our children is effective or if there is room for improvement…

1. Come on! You can do it! It's easy!

Some time ago, while I was walking with my children near a river, we came across a father with two children on bicycles. The youngest one (maybe 4 or 5 years old), didn't feel like crossing the bridge. The dad kept saying, "Come on! Move it! What's it going to take? There are people waiting on you. What's your problem? Come on...".

The child, however, just stayed where he was, trembling. In the end, to make a long story short, the father had to practically force the child across in order to clear the passageway.

Wouldn't it have been better if the father had told him, "I understand that it's scary for you, it's a little high, but if you want, your brother and I will help you..."?

We can all imagine the sense of inadequacy a person might feel when another person tells them something like, "What? You can't do it? It's so easy! You should have known how to do this a long time ago...", or, "Everyone your age can do this!" One’s self-esteem might be wounded by such words. Imagine a person scared of driving a car being told repeatedly, "What are you so scared of? The world is full of people who drive!"

Seeing someone fearful and brought down – being belittled – simply isn’t helpful. At the very least, it's important to understand why we have these blocks and find effective ways to overcome them and help each other.

2. Stop it, or I’ll spank you!

We must admit that threats are the result of frustration. When nothing else seems to work, threats seem to be the only tool that "can control disobedient children." Rarely, however, are they truly effective – except ever so briefly.

We’re better off spending time developing a repertoire of constructive tactics. Just a couple ideas: 1. Be authoritative and calm while explaining that it's not okay to behave this way (explain that you understand their motives, and explain why they shouldn’t behave as such). 2. Always propose an alternative! Distract them from the reason they’re throwing a tantrum, so as not to fall into an endless "tug of war." Rather than fixating on "no" and threatening them, let's shift our focus to something else. And, remember that it takes a certain healthy, emotional detachment to pull it off.

3. Wait until your father hears about this!

This phrase is nothing more than a threat. The problem is simply postponed, while a tantrum must be dealt with immediately. When the other parent comes home, the child has likely already forgotten what he did.

It only harms the mother’s authority, passing the hot potato to someone else… Not to mention the “bad cop” role we leave to the other parent.

4. Hurry up!

Precise schedules, traffic, appointments… Objectively speaking, we are slaves to the clock. And when a child, unaware of the frenetic pace we “must” follow, can't find his shoes or won't put on his jacket, we easily lose our cool and yell at him to hurry up.

And when we are in such a hurry, children feel guilty. While it makes them feel bad, but it doesn't motivate them to go any faster.

Paul Coleman, a family therapist, offers a glimpse into his life, which can help us in our own homes as well: "In the morning at my house, it’s pretty chaotic. The last image my children have of me is an angry face. So, I've made a pact with myself that no matter what happens in the morning: milk spilled on clean clothes, folders not yet ready... I have to keep my cool and strive to find gentler ways to speed up."

5. Bravissimo! You're a genius!

Saying phrases like "You're so smart," "You're a genius," "You're such a good girl/boy," ends up creating expectations that children feel they have to live up to.

It’s better to praise certain behaviors, rather than the child: "I'm glad you didn't make a fuss about leaving the playground. You behaved so well!"

It’s also better to avoid haphazard praise. Praise only achievements that come from real effort. For example, finishing a glass of water is not an outstanding accomplishment. Praise should be specific. It’s useless to say, "beautiful drawing" about the dozens of drawings a child makes in a day. It’s better say something like, "Well done! I see you drew a house with a door and windows..."

Do you have any other "must-avoid" phrases in mind which could undermine your children's confidence, skills, and self-esteem?

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