21 Things You Should Never Tell Your Child (But You Probably Do)

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Even with the best intentions, sometimes parents can say things that end up hurting more than helping. To ensure you’re on the right track with parenting, avoid these 8 phrases child psychologists warn against.

‘Everything will be OK’

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Saying “everything will be OK” can seem like you’re not really hearing what your child is feeling, and let’s face it, it’s not always true that things turn out fine. 

It’s important to let kids know life can be tough. 

Offer support, not false promises

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Amy Morin suggests in her CNBC piece that promising kids everything will always be great doesn’t set them up well for later on. Instead, you want to teach them they’re strong enough to deal with life’s challenges.

‘You’re lazy’

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Labeling a child as “lazy” can leave a lasting mark and risk them taking that negative label to heart. Think about the Pygmalion effect from education, where higher expectations lead to better outcomes. Conversely, negative labels like “lazy” can actually hamper performance.

Help your kid overcome barriers

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As pediatric psychologist and parent coach Ann-Louise Lockhart points out, it’s crucial to identify what’s blocking them from completing a task and work on it repeatedly. This approach helps develop strong skills and positive habits, far more effectively than negative labeling.

‘I’m disappointed in you’


Telling your child “I’m disappointed in you” is something Ann-Louise Lockhart steers clear of for several reasons. No matter the age, these words can really hurt. This kind of feedback can lead to children focusing too much on trying to please their parents and worrying excessively about making mistakes, just to avoid the pain of hearing those words again. 

Why disappointment hurts


Kids might start to see themselves as inherently disappointing, which could lead to an increase in defiant or oppositional behavior, like more backtalk or eye-rolling, as they start to embrace this negative identity.

‘You make me so mad’

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This is essentially blaming someone else for how you feel, which isn’t fair, especially to a child. It’s important to own up to your emotions in front of your kids rather than making them feel responsible. 

Express feelings responsibly


While you don’t want to blame your child for how you feel, it’s fine to express when you’re upset. A better approach would be saying something like, “I’m not happy when you do this,” as suggested by Amy Morin, a clinical social worker, or using “When you do this, I feel that way.”

Name your feelings 


Be really detailed and precise about your emotions when talking to your kids. Instead of saying something general like “I feel bad,” get into the specifics, like “I feel frustrated.” This teaches your child about emotional granularity, which studies have shown is good for mental health.

Why specificity matters in emotions


This way of speaking helps to clarify that your feelings are tied to a certain behavior, not the child themselves. Unlike saying “You make me mad,” which might make a child feel like they’re the issue, focusing on specific actions shows that it’s the behavior, not the child, that’s problematic. 

Don’t be afraid to apologize to your child

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If you ever catch yourself saying something like “You make me so mad,” it’s important to own up to it and apologize to your child, as Amy Morin mentioned in her advice for CNBC.

‘Use your words’


This one might seem like a go-to phrase for encouraging kids to express themselves, but it’s not always as helpful as we think. Children often resort to whining or nonverbal cues not because they don’t want to use words, but because they’re struggling to find the right ones to describe their feelings, as explained by Deiros Collado. 

Identify feelings together


As a parent, your role is to guide them in expressing those feelings by showing them how it’s done. For instance, if your child is fussing and you think they might be tired, you could calmly help by identifying the emotion for them: “You seem tired. Would you like to rest a bit?” This helps them recognize their feelings and shows them how to express these feelings verbally.

‘You better appreciate what I did for you’


Pediatric psychologist and parent coach Ann-Louise Lockhart opts not to force her kids into feeling grateful, understanding that while many kids do appreciate their parents’ efforts, they naturally tend to be focused on themselves—after all, they’re still growing and learning. 

Understand your child’s gratitude

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Kids may not always show gratitude in ways adults expect because they’re at a stage where understanding others’ perspectives or expressing empathy might not be their strong suit. They could struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed. 

And even when they do understand these emotions, they might not yet have the language skills to express their appreciation openly.

Don’t compare your child’s gratitude language to those of adults


This means parents might need to rethink what gratitude looks like coming from a child and realize that expecting adult-level expressions of thankfulness from them may not be entirely fair, as Lockhart points out.

‘Calm down’ or ‘stop crying’


Saying “calm down” or “stop crying” misses the mark on understanding and tends to teach kids to push their feelings aside, which isn’t good for their emotional growth or long-term happiness. 

You may trigger a bigger reaction


Trying to quiet someone’s distress in these ways usually doesn’t help and might even cause a bigger reaction, as Martha Deiros Collado, a clinical psychologist and author, points out.

Emotions need to be expressed and understood, not shut away. 

The problem with hiding feelings


Encouraging kids to hide their feelings can lead to trouble, such as them hiding their sadness or other emotions, which might cause anxiety or mood issues later, according to Kristin Loiselle Rich, a pediatric psychologist and professor at the University of Cincinnati.

‘Because I said so’

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Using “because I said so” can shut down a conversation without acknowledging a child’s feelings or perspective, making it seem like you’re not tuned into how they feel. It also makes kids feel powerless.

Listen to your kid’s views


It’s better to recognize what your child is feeling and provide a reason for your decisions that they can understand, suggests clinical psychologist Cindy T. Graham. If your child keeps questioning after you’ve given an explanation, it’s okay to firmly let them know that the discussion is over, as advised by Graham to HuffPost.

Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.