7 words or phrases you should never use when talking to your children, according to psychology

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Ah, the joys of parenthood!

The elation when they smile at you, the pride when they master a new skill, the heartache when they stumble.

Above all, the immense responsibility to guide them through life. And naturally, communication plays a pivotal role in this journey.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

You might not even realize this, but sometimes, the words or phrases you use while talking to your little ones can have a profound impact on them. It’s not always about what you say, but rather how you say it.

So if you’re asking yourself, “How can I communicate better with my child?” take a look at these seven words or phrases that, according to psychology, you should never use when talking to your children.

Remember, it’s not about being perfect; it’s about being aware and making small tweaks that can lead to significant changes in your child’s emotional well-being.

The responsibility is immense, but so is the reward.

1) “You’re okay”

This one might surprise you. After all, aren’t we supposed to reassure our children when they’re upset or hurt?

Here’s the thing.

By quickly jumping to “you’re okay,” you might unintentionally invalidate their feelings. Instead of acknowledging their distress, you brush it off, which can make them feel unheard and misunderstood.

According to psychology, it’s crucial to validate their feelings first, then offer comfort. A better alternative might be, “I can see that you’re upset right now, and that’s okay. I’m here with you.”

Remember, it’s not about dismissing their emotions but helping them navigate through them.

2) “Because I said so”

Now, this is a phrase I’m sure many of us parents have used at some point. I recall using it myself when my daughter, Emma, was persistently asking why she couldn’t have ice cream before dinner.

Here’s the kicker.

While “Because I said so” might be convenient, it doesn’t help your child understand the reason behind your decision. It shuts down the conversation and misses an opportunity for them to learn.

Reflecting on my interaction with Emma, instead of resorting to “Because I said so,” a better approach would have been, “Eating ice cream before dinner will spoil your appetite. It’s important to eat balanced meals first for our health.”

By providing a clear reason, not only does it satisfy their curiosity but also teaches them about healthy eating. Who knew ice cream could lead to such a valuable lesson?

3) “Stop crying”

I remember a time when my son, Alex, was having an absolute meltdown because his favorite toy broke. In a moment of frustration, I found myself saying, “Stop crying, it’s just a toy.”

But here’s what I learned.

Telling your child to stop crying doesn’t help them process their emotions. It might even discourage them from expressing their feelings in the future.

To Alex, that toy was more than just plastic and paint. It held sentimental value. Instead of dismissing his feelings, I should have said, “I see that you’re really upset because your toy broke. It’s okay to feel sad.”

It’s all about acknowledging their emotions and, importantly, letting them know it’s okay to express them. After all, we’re human and it’s natural to experience a range of emotions.

4) “You’re being too sensitive”

This phrase is often used in an attempt to downplay a child’s emotional response. But here’s the twist.

Labeling a child as “too sensitive” can make them feel that their emotions are wrong or excessive. It might discourage them from sharing their feelings in the future, fearing they’ll be judged or ridiculed.

Instead, try saying something like, “I see that you’re feeling a lot right now and that’s okay. Let’s talk about it.”

Remember, there’s no such thing as being too sensitive. Emotions are a part of us and they need to be expressed, not suppressed. Every feeling is valid and deserves to be acknowledged.

5) “Wait till your dad/mom gets home”

You might think this phrase is effective in scaring your child into behaving better. But here’s the catch.

Research has shown that fear-based parenting strategies do not instill good behavior. Instead, they might lead to behavioral issues and lower self-esteem in children.

Using another person, especially a parent, as a threat can create anxiety and a sense of impending doom. It also undermines your authority as a parent.

A better approach would be addressing the issue at hand yourself, saying something like, “What you did was not right. Let’s talk about why it was wrong and how you can make better choices next time.”

Take the lead, take action, and remember – effective parenting isn’t about instilling fear but teaching understanding and respect for rules.

6) “You always…” or “You never…”

I must confess, I’ve caught myself using these phrases when my frustration got the better of me. “You never clean your room,” or “You always forget to do your homework.”

But here’s what I learned.

Such sweeping statements can create a negative self-image in children. They might start believing they are incapable or always mess up, which can be harmful to their self-esteem. And besides, it’s just plain unfair. 

Instead, focus on the specific behavior, not the child. For instance, “I noticed you didn’t clean your room today. Did something happen?” or “You forgot to do your homework today. Let’s try to remember next time.”

It’s a subtle shift in language, but it can make a world of difference in how children perceive themselves and their abilities.

7) “I’m disappointed in you”

This phrase can be a heavy burden for a child to carry.

It can make them feel they have failed to meet your expectations, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

Instead, express your disappointment in the behavior, not the child. Say something like, “I’m disappointed that you lied about finishing your homework. We value honesty in our family.”

Remember, it’s crucial to separate the action from the person.

This way, children understand that it’s their actions that can improve, not their worth as individuals.

Reflections and steps forward

If you’ve found yourself using some of these phrases with your children, don’t be too hard on yourself. We’ve all been there.

Here’s the silver lining – recognizing these patterns is the first step towards change.

With deliberate effort and mindfulness, you can shift your language to foster a healthier emotional environment for your children. It’s about focusing on the behavior, not the child, and promoting open and empathetic communication.

Begin by observing your interactions with your children. Are there times when you might be dismissing their feelings or not providing clear explanations?

When you notice this happening, pause. Reflect on how you can validate their emotions or explain your decisions in a more constructive way.

This won’t happen instantly. It’s a gradual process of unlearning and relearning. But with each conscious effort, you’re fostering stronger connections with your children and supporting their emotional health.

Remember, it’s less about achieving perfection and more about making progress. So be patient with yourself during this journey.

As you navigate this path, you’re not just improving your communication with your children but also shaping their understanding of emotions, relationships, and self-worth – lessons that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Take heart in the fact that every step forward, no matter how small, contributes to the positive emotional development of your child. And that’s something truly commendable.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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