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4 Things You Should Never Say to a Child

Blog 4 Things You Should Never Say to a Child

These seemingly harmless phrases are more likely to confuse kids—and can even be hurtful.


These seemingly harmless phrases are more likely to confuse kids—and can even be hurtful.

“Because I said so.”

It’s tempting to resort to this response when your child is constantly asking why they can or can’t do something; we all get tired of feeling like we have to justify everything we say. However, children really do need explanations for your rules and requests. “If you want to teach kids appropriate behavior, they need to understand the reasons for acting a certain way,” says Jill Fodstad, Ph.D., a pediatric psychiatrist at Indiana University Health. “They won’t learn anything from ‘Because I said so.’”

Fortunately, there’s no need to be long-winded; young kids will better comprehend a brief explanation. If your kid wants to know why he can’t eat cookies before dinner, for example, say, “You can’t have cookies right now because we’re going to eat in 10 minutes and you won’t be hungry for the meal I just made.” And even if you’ve established a no-snacks-before-dinner rule, expect to repeat it many times, says Dr. Fodstad: “Young children learn by repetition, so make sure you’re not expecting too much of them too soon.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

For starters, it’s not necessary: Even young kids will feel remorse when they do something wrong. Plus, it sends mixed (and hurtful) messages. “Your child will think ‘But I thought my parents loved me,’ and she’ll feel very confused,” Dr. Fodstad says. “And it won’t encourage better behavior. In fact, children who feel more shame early in life end up being more defiant and aggressive later on.”

Instead of chastising your child for failing to do something, try to set her up for success. For example, if her room is a mess, don’t just say, “Go clean your room”; that’s a daunting task for a young kid. Rather, break it into smaller tasks she’s more likely to complete (“Please put your dirty clothes in the hamper.”)

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Sure, you know that there are no monsters in your child’s closet and that a scraped knee isn’t a medical emergency. But these things can be very scary to a young kid, and it’s important to respect that, says Dr. Fodstad. “Otherwise, you’re basically telling your child that he’s not allowed to feel his feelings,” she explains.

When your child is frightened, it’s better to show empathy (“I know your knee hurts”) and explain how you’ll help (by getting a bandage). Then, use the opportunity to show him how he can comfort himself when he’s scared. “You might say ‘Let’s take some deep breaths, and then Mom will hug you to make you feel better,’” Dr. Fodstad says.

“Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.”

You might think you’re simply providing your kid with a good example of how to behave, but that’s not how she’ll see it. “Your child will wonder why she’s not good enough and believe that there’s something wrong with her,” Dr. Fodstad explains.

Saying this also undercuts the message that everyone is different. “You want your child to recognize that she’s her own person,” Dr. Fodstad says. Plus, it’s not realistic to assume that all of your children will behave the same way. “Just because one child is very good at occupying herself, for example, doesn’t mean her siblings will have that skill,” Dr. Fodstad explains. So, skip the comparisons and provide positive reinforcement for good behavior instead.

-- By Jessica Brown

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