No parent is perfect, so we’re all bound to say things we regret now and then. But some parenting mistakes are bigger than others. Luckily, it’s never too late to omit some phrases out of our parenting vocabulary. Here’s a list of 10 things experts say shouldn’t part of your parenting vocabulary.
- Clean your plate. “You don’t want children to eat more out of guilt, or to please their parents; and you certainly don’t want children to eat more just because there is more food on their plate,” says Roy Benaroch, MD, FAAP, associate clinical professor of pediatrics with Emory University and author of A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Children.
- You’re going to get fat if you eat like that. You also don’t want to make your child terrified to eat or obsessed with every morsel of food he or she puts in her mouth. “This is a judgment that indicates the child’s worth and value is dependent on the scale and the size of their jeans,” says Vicki Hoefle, a professional parent educator.
- Why can’t you be more like _________? This is a pitfall for parents, especially when you have one child who acts out and one who behaves fairly reasonably, says Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor for Total Transformation. “When you use this kind of comparison, it’s hurtful and also pits your children against each other.”
- Say you’re sorry. What better way to teach a child to lie and be insincere than by forcing an apology? “And, if all it takes is an ‘I’m sorry’ for all to be forgiven, then why change your behavior? Act out, say you’re sorry and move on,” says Hoefle.
- I don’t like that kid. The moment you say you don’t like your child’s friend, that pal becomes instantly more appealing. Unless this friend is putting your child in harm’s way, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut.
- I hate you, too! “When you say, ‘I hate you, too,’ to win an argument with your child, you’ve already lost,” says Banks. “You’re not your child’s peer and you’re not in a competition with him. By saying ‘I hate you,’ you’ve just brought yourself down to your child’s level of maturity and left him thinking, ‘If my parent finds me repulsive, then I must be.’”
- Don’t cry/Don’t get so upset over this. No parent wants to see their child in distress, but suggesting that he or she keeps those emotions in is unhealthy. “Kids need to feel all emotions, experience them and show themselves they can manage them,” says Tanya Gesek, a licensed psychologist. “Don’t take that away from them.”
- Wait until Daddy/Mommy gets home. Many parents play good cop/bad cop with the kids and find it doesn’t do much to get their children to behave. “This really says, ‘Fear men, fear fathers and fear anyone who is in a position of authority,” says Hoefle. “Don’t get caught and you won’t have to worry about daddy coming home.”
- If you ever…. We have all done things we didn’t (or don’t) want our parents to know about. The “If you ever…” speech forces kids into a corner where they need to either keep quiet or lie, says Jo Langford, a Seattle-based therapist. “Many kids are afraid to talk to their parents about various topics, and tried unsuccessfully (sometimes with terrible consequences) to deal with something on their own.” Instead, “If you ever…” should be accompanied by encouragement that when/ if these theoretical things happen, “…I want you to come to me.”
- You’re so smart. According to Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, telling your child how smart they are could make them less curious, less interested in learning, and more reluctant to do anything where they might make a mistake. “It places undue emphasis on intelligence and inherent, fixed traits. By focusing on the process of acquiring knowledge and the ability to overcome challenges, however, parents can foster a growth mindset.”
Reviewed by Dr. Eva Benmeleh, September 2020
- All parents say things they regret, or give helpful advice that can actually do more harm than good.
- It’s never too late to omit some phrases out of our parenting vocabulary.
- Advice such as “Clean your plate” or “Don’t eat that” can put an unhealthy emphasis on food.
- In addition, turning Dad into the bad guy or badmouthing your child’s friend, rarely results in the outcome you want.