According to psychologists and other child development experts, there are a few things you should never say to your child, and yet most parents have said one or all of these things before. Even the best parents know how easy it is to make mistakes when you’re parenting a toddler.
Avoid Saying These Phrases To Your Toddler
1. “You’re so _______” (insert something negative like mean or klutzy)
If one of your kids hits their friend or sibling you might instantly say something like “You’re so mean, Katie.” If your child tends to fall a lot, it’s easy to slip and say, “You’re such a klutz, Johnny.” Even if you don’t really mean it, you are labeling your child with negative words, which ultimately shortchanges them.
Of course you don’t mean to do it, after all you think the world of your child, but kids are incredibly impressionable. If they are told something, they believe it and eventually act on it. If they are constantly told they are klutzy they will start to act on that label, such as shying away from group sports.
Some labels cut so deep that kids never forget them. Perhaps there’s something your parent called you growing up, and even if it only happened once, you never forgot it. Labels like “stupid” or “lazy” can be extremely damaging. It’s not just negative labels; even positive or neutral labels such as “smart” or “shy” impose expectations on children.
2. “Leave Me Alone!”
We get it, kids can be incredibly frustrating and more often than we’d like to admit we all want to shout from the tops of our lungs: “LEAVE ME ALONE!” But try your very best to never do it, no matter what.
According to Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D., founder of Huntsville’s Ozark Center for Language Studies, regularly telling your child to leave you alone or that you’re too busy, you give them the impression that they shouldn’t try talking to you because they are a bother. Elgin explains, “They begin to think there’s no point in talking to you because you’re always brushing them off.”
If you regularly tell your young child to leave you alone, he or she will be less likely to talk to you when they are older.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for yourself; it’s very important that you do take time for you and it’s good for your child to see you doing so. Yet, when you do take some much-needed ‘me’ time make sure your child has a sitter or family member looking after him or her.
Instead of telling your child “I’m too busy” or “Leave me alone” try something more along the lines of: “Mom/dad has to finish this one thing, so I need you to go outside/paint/etc. for a little while and then when I’m finished we will talk/go outside” or do whatever else your child is asking.
Keep your expectations realistic, your toddler isn’t going to stay self-entertained for an entire hour, but 10-20 minutes is doable.
3. “Why Can’t You Be More Like Your Sister/Brother?”
Even if you are comparing your fit-throwing child to their well-behaved sibling, it doesn’t make it right. You shouldn’t compare your child to anyone, even on his or her best or worst days.
Parents naturally use other children as a frame of reference to compare and analyze their child’s behavior, but don’t let your child know you are doing it. When you compare your child to someone else, you are basically stating that you wish your child were different. Even if that’s not what you’re consciously doing at all, that’s how your child perceives it.
As a result, you end up undermining your child’s self-confidence and teaching them to compare themselves to others—which can be a dangerous thing to do. Worst-case scenario, your child may resent you, rebel, or develop self-confidence issues.
Always focus on encouraging your child’s positive behaviors and actions as opposed to dwelling on the negative.
4. “Don’t Be Sad”
Telling your child to not be sad is going against everything natural about being human. Feeling sad and crying are all natural things humans go through. Even saying, “Don’t be a baby” isn’t helpful, as is “There’s no reason to be afraid.”
While parents want to protect their children from feelings of sadness or fear, they are real feelings that must be acknowledged and discussed. Talk about the feelings your child is experiencing and help them get through it. Feelings of sadness will hit your child all throughout life, the best thing you can do is present them with the tools to combat it.
For instance, if your child has a fight with a friend at school, instead of telling them not to be sad, discuss the argument and let your child know you completely understand his or her feelings. Offer real world solutions, such as talking to their friend about the problem, or apologizing if they were in the wrong.