9 Things Parents Should Never Say to Their Children

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In another blog, I addressed the power of the tongue by noting that your tongue is a wild animal: you need to chain it, tame it, and train it. Chain it by being silent when you know nothing good will come out of your mouth. Tame it by vowing each day that you will harness and control your tongue. And train it to breathe life-giving words into those you love.

When it comes to your kids, your tongue can do a whole lot of damage, if you’re not careful. Never underestimate the defeating power of a few careless words. So here are 9 things that you should never say to your kids:

1. “Why can’t you be more like _________________?”

Comparisons are toxic and they serve no positive purpose. Comparing your child to their brother, sister or friend only tears down your child and makes them feel like they’re not good enough or don’t measure up. Treat each child of yours as an individual. Never say, “Why can’t you do well in school like your sister?” Do say, “What can we do to help you do your very best in school?” Each of your children is unique. It’s important to treat them uniquely.

2. “I don’t have time right now.”

One Saturday morning ,when my son, Marky, was a little boy, he showed me his ball and glove and said, “Dad, let’s play baseball.” Of course, since I’m Mr. Family Guy, I said, “Sure, son.” Right? Wrong. No, I said “I don’t have time right now. I’m fixing the toilet. Just give me a few minutes.” Well, the minutes turned into hours and when I was ready that afternoon to play ball, my son said, “No thanks, Dad.” When we say, “I don’t have time,” what we’re really saying is, “What I’m doing is more important than what you need.” or “There’s something else I’d rather be doing.” Is there anything more important for us to do than to spend time with our children and family?

3. “I don’t think you can do it.”

What your child hears is, “I don’t believe in you.” Knowing you believe in them gives your kids strength, courage, motivation, tenacity, and more. Take that belief away and the damage will be huge. When you’re tempted to say something like this, instead say, “You’ve got some big obstacles, but I’m here for you, cheering you on and ready to help you to do your very best.” While you don’t want to fill your kids with false hope or inflated pride, you do want to encourage them in their goals.

4. “You’re such a disappointment.”

Your kids can mess up, and they will. We all do. But if you want your children to learn from their mistakes, address their mess and how it can be fixed without hanging it on them. The label of failure is a heavy load to carry, and most kids won’t hold up. Try saying, “Your [bad grade, bad choice, etc.] is disappointing, but I love you no matter what. What can you learn from this?” Separate who your child is from the mess they’ve made. [Tweet This]

5. “Don’t be such a wimp.”

This should never be said to a boy or a girl. But, for a boy, it’s basically saying, “You don’t have what it takes to be a man” and can damage him to the core for quite some time. Saying, “You throw like a girl” to your son can have the same effect.

6. “You’re such a bonehead.”

Telling your child they’re stupid is implanted in the hard drive of their mind and is difficult to delete. It’s certainly no way to motivate them.

7. “Can’t you do anything right?”

When a parent says this to a child in the heat of the moment, it’s not only saying that the child messed this one thing up, but also that they mess up everything. It’s always dangerous to use broad brush words like always, never, everything or anything.

8. Why didn’t you make the starting team?

Your daughter or son probably tried really hard to make the starting team, but landed on the B squad. They probably already are disappointed about it and don’t need anyone to pour vinegar into their wound. Instead, they need to be praised for doing their best and for even making the team.

9. “So you made a B+, why didn’t you get an A?”

When something like this is said, here is what a child hears, “Nothing I do is good enough for my mom or dad.” If they did their best, we should praise them. If they didn’t, we should challenge them to give it everything they’ve got the next time.

By the way, the 5 Toxins of the Tongue that Can Poison Your Marriage also apply to your relationship with your children. It might provide you with further insight on this topic as well. And these 5 Types of Powerful Words for Your Marriage are likewise applicable to your children and will help you to build them up. Here are 5 more things your kids should never hear from you.

What other hurtful things have you said to your kids? How did you remedy the situation? Share your experiences below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • K. Thornton

    I’ve learned so much from you the last few years. I’ve valued reading and following for insight. Lately, though I’ve become a bit discouraged. While I understand the content of your articles is valuable, there are times I look at the “You should Never…” style titles as very disheartening. They feel condemning. I’m not a perfect parent. There is only one. He has grace. Ultimately, I think these articles are intended to help parent’s learn how to give grace; but I have to admit, I delete some of them because they are heavy in the title and I have enough heaviness to deal with.

  • Lisa R

    I agree with with most of what is said above, however I disagree with the one about not having time right now. That does not mean that anything is ever more important than my child, but my child needs to learn that I have to prioritize my time and sometimes something is more pressing at that very moment. I do not want my children to believe that the world revolves around them, or give them the power to demand that I stop what I am doing immediately just because they have requested my attention. I believe it can wait. If children know they are loved and they are a priority they can also be told to wait for a bit.

  • Sis

    Ok what if ur kids say thing sorta like that to u

  • Compromiser

    Maybe you could give them a small or simple thing to do that they would at least feel like doing it would be helping you do your job and then when you finish your work do with them what they want to do?

  • Mbulelo Bikwani

    I don’t have time now means something else to a child. so find another way of saying i don’t have time now because children spell LOVE as TIME. You can guess what ‘i don’t have time now’ means to them. There’s no doubt that we’ll have instances we don’t have time now and in those instances we must find a way of communicating that without communicating unintended consequences.

  • drrichardnorris

    Children need our affirmation not condemnation. This is a conscious challenge I work through each day – speaking words of life over and into the lives of my kids (and my wife).

  • Thank you so much for your comment. While we never want to discourage anyone, it is our intent to grab people’s attention so they will read the article. For today’s search engine optimization requirements, it is showing that the “heavier” titles attract more people. However, this is very useful feedback and we will definitely take
    into consideration moving forward. I appreciate it.

  • Andrew

    I feel that he has not said anything that has not already been said and his “original” reaction to the situation is just common sense to the care and loving parent. I don’t understand this sense of enabling your child comes from. I enabledy oldest daughter because I did not want her to have the same childhood as I did and now so much is wrong with her for example the grades for school I always let her not that as long as she did her best that was good enough for me well now her best is c and f and her response to me is that she is trying her best when all her teachers say is that her potiential is through the roof but sense I set the bar as your best is the standard she is not striving to be better even when we encourage her with all we have I guess this artical just really got to me because he acts like this is every kid and this is the way they all should be treated and your a bad parent if you don’t follow this model don’t get me wrong my daughter is very good she does not do the normal bad things that would Harm her or her family but to say that this is the model we should follow I don’t think that it right

  • chelsea

    I don’t think “you throw like a girl” should be an insult. I have a 6 year old daughter and she throws hard. I think it’s disgusting that saying anyone is doing anything “like a girl” is such an insult these days. If you ask my daughter to run like a girl, she runs her heart out, if you ask her to kick like a girl, she gives it everything she has. Saying those things is just telling them they aren’t good enough, as a GIRL. I’ve taught her to respond to such things that parents think is acceptable for their children to say to other children. She is a strong willed stubborn little girl that definitely holds her own, but I still think it’s unacceptable for people to use “like a girl” as an insult.

  • Linda marissa

    My sister has made many of these mistakes in the past and I can tell she feels great guilt. She is trying now to change her path and make better choices. Is there any advice for people who have already made these bad choices that want to repair the damage they may have done? Is there hope for a relationship with her children, and is there hope for her children’s self esteem and emotions?

  • Rena

    Agreed. I think the focus here is on the negativity of the statement “I don’t have time.” I like to focus on what I CAN do. The tape I typically use to something like that is “Sure, we can go play ball. Just give me a minute to finish this up, and we’ll head outside.” It doesn’t read as a “no” or a negative, still teaches patience (I can’t fathom the behavior I’d garner from her if I were living my life dropping what I’m doing every single time my three year old wants my attention!), and it allows you to come to a stopping point.

    Anyone who has a differing opinion, please feel free to share what it is that you prefer to do! 🙂

  • Rena

    The approach, not the tape* posting from mobile, sorry.