Make no mistake; while parenting is one of the most rewarding challenges you can undertake as an adult, it is also one of the most difficult. After all, as parents we are often preoccupied with the practical requirements of parenting, such as creating a safe, durable, and damp-free home and providing financially for our children’s future.
This can cause us to lose sight of our children’s emotional needs, however, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on their development and mental well-being. More specifically, we can inadvertently say things that have a negative impact in the mind of infants, cultivating long-term issues like low self-esteem, diminished confidence, and an unhealthy sense of competitiveness.
With this in mind, here are 8 phrases parents should never say to their kids during their development.
1. “Don’t make me ashamed of you.”
Let’s start with phrases revolving around the carrot and the stick phenomenon, which parents mindlessly use to either solicit good behaviour or discourage mischievousness. By using extreme and emotive phrases such as “don’t make me ashamed of you”, however, you are running the risk of emotionally wounding your child and hindering their ability to process both praise and constructive criticism.
Children who hear this phrase are also likely to constantly seek approval in the eyes of others, and this can breed significant issues when they attempt to form romantic relationships in later life.
2. “I promise we can go on holiday this year.”
Conversely, it can be equally damaging to dangle rewards in-front of children, only to withdraw them without notice or just reason. This can create trust issues between you and your kids, while it may also hinder them from forming bonds with other adults in positions of authorities.
Of course, parents can argue that financial constraints may prevent them from booking a planned holiday, but it is always better to seek out an affordable alternative than reneging on your promise entirely. This is always an option, as was evidenced in the wake of the Great Recession when motorhome sales soared as customers flocked to seek alternatives as the cost of overseas travel became prohibitive.
Above all else, remember the importance of a promise in the mind of a child, and if compromise is required then explain this in detail before proceeding.
3. “When I was your age, I was doing great.”
In the eyes of infants aged under the age of six, parents are perceived as Gods rather than mere mortals. Being placed on a pedestal in this manner adds gravity to everything that you say, while the dynamics of the relationships that they form with others are also influenced heavily by the phrases and statements that you use.
If you constantly refer to your own achievements as a child, for example, you may be fostering an unhealthy sense of competitiveness in your kids and creating an infant mind-set that is desperate to validate its self-worth. While this is not necessarily harmful during childhood, it takes on a more sinister form later in life as it encourages individuals to pursue goals to please others rather than personal gratification. This can lead to long-term unhappiness and prevent your children from enjoying a full and contented life.
4. “The other children performed better than you on that test.”
Similarly, comparing your child’s level of achievement with that of their peers can have a highly detrimental impact on their ability to form relationships with people of the same age. Instead of seeing the value in friendship and forming bonds, they are more likely to view their peers and competitors who must be superseded at every opportunity.
This not only hinders their social development, but it will also impact the way in which they are perceived by others. Perhaps even more worryingly, the process of comparing children negatively to their classmates can also create self-esteem issues in later life, as well as an innate tendency to validate themselves in accordance with the actions of others.
5. “You won’t grow up to be strong if you don’t eat all of your dinner.”
This is a common and often playful phrase, which is well-intended but can have a negative impact on children. After all, eating disorders and phobias surrounding certain foods are far more likely to emerge during childhood, occasionally as a result of trauma but more commonly through the subconscious projections of parents.
In this instance, you are using a form of manipulation to achieve a desired result, and this can cause children to place too heavy an emphasis on the importance of food and the consequences of not eating certain delicacies. Instead, it is far better to encourage children to eat specific foods by articulating their health benefits, or alternatively make the process of eating more engaging and a little less serious.
6. “You’re just like your father (or mother).”
Now the impact phrase depends largely on its delivery, although as a general rule you should avoid saying it at all costs. Even if the phrase is repeated in jest, it can create negative connotations in a child’s mind and cause them to take a dim of view of the traits that they share with a particular parent.
This can create distance between you and your child, but this is nothing compared to the impact of this phrase when it is uttered in anger. In this instance, you are presenting a clear sign that you are unhappy with your relationship, unsettling the child and inadvertently engaging them in a parental conflict. Your child may also become a subconscious outlet for your angst and frustration, which in turn lowers their self-esteem and creates an unwanted distraction at school.
With this in mind, strive to avoid unflattering comparisons between your child and partner, and instead frame your criticism constructively without referring to anybody else.
7. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.”
Sure, kids can be rowdy and boisterous at times, and as a parent it is your job to manage their behaviour according to the situation. Conversely, parents must not create boundaries that prevent their children from expressing themselves, or attempt to curb the natural mischievousness that is often a sign of intelligence or creativity.
By telling your child that you do want to hear them anymore, regardless of the circumstances, you are unknowingly suggesting that their presence is not welcome in your life. In the developing mind of a child, this tends to breed feelings of guilt and inadequacy, as they can find it hard to distinguish between the vagaries of words and how they are used. Instead of using such harsh and cutting language, you should instead focus on your tone when telling your child to be quiet and frame it as a real-time rather than an open-ended instruction.
8. “If you do this for me, I’ll love you forever.”
The issue with this phrase is obvious to spot, as parents are supposed to love their child on an eternal and unconditional basis. This type of seemingly innocent and playful phrase actually suggests that a parent’s love is conditional on your behaviour and fulfilment of their wishes, and this can have huge implications as your children grow and attempt to form adult relationships.
Such a phrase, when used over time, also conditions children to grow into people-pleasers, as they set aside their own wishes to satisfy others regardless of the circumstances. This risk must be negated at all costs, as you while you should always remind your child that you love them you must also clarify the fact that this emotion is unconditional entirely unrelated to their behaviour or values.