Recently while driving by a cemetery, my husband turned to our 5-and 3-year-old jokesters and said, “See that place? People are just dying to get in there!”
Clearly, my husband has a future in comedy.
But within 5 seconds he realized that joke was way too complex for their young minds.
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you go to heaven when you die?”
“Where does the body go?”
“In the ground????!!!”
“Is that where Great-Grandfather is?”
“Is that where my [dead] inchworm went too?”
And the questions continued for the whole day. In fact, we still can’t drive by a cemetery without their Chris Matthews-style interrogations.
There are a lot of things you shouldn’t say to kids. I’m often caught wondering how to say something without falsely promising, scaring or confusing. I also want to boost confidence, while not inflating their egos too much; let them know I’m proud, while aiming for their inner pride to take precedence; help them make their own decisions while guiding them to the right ones… And the emotional roller-coaster called “parenting” continues.
Parenting Tips: 6 Common Parenting Phrases To Avoid
Here is a list of some of 6 seemingly innocent parenting phrases that can actually do more harm than good. Bad jokes not included.
1. “Don’t worry; everything will be fine.”
Whether your child is apprehensive about the first day of school or concerned about an impending concert recital, as a parent, you want to soothe her anxieties and reassure her. But by telling her not to worry, you haven’t acknowledged her feelings and may have even conveyed to her that her emotions aren’t valid or that it’s not okay to be frightened. Rather than dismiss her feelings, recognize them, give them a name (sad, scared, worried, etc.) — arming her with the information she needs to identify them next time — and then talk to her about her emotions. You’ll also be demonstrating a lesson in empathy for her.
Instead try: “You seem worried. Can we talk about what has you upset?” After hearing your child’s concerns, encourage them with reinforcement like, “You’ll get through it. And each time should get easier and more fun.”
2. “You should set a good example for your brother”
In an ideal world older siblings should set positive examples, but it’s not their job. It’s really yours. Kids can feel good about the role they play for the little ones, so focus on the positive.
Instead try: “Your brother looks up to you; you’re such a good role model!”
3. “Because I said so.”
This popular phrase might end a never-ending string of “whys” but it also allows a teaching moment to pass by. Instead of using this brush-off, offer an explanation as to why your decision stands firm. You aren’t giving your child permission to debate your choice, but you are affirming his feelings on the matter.
Instead try: “I know you would rather play outside than clean your room, but in this family, we work as a team to keep our house in order, and your help is needed.”
4. “You know better than that.”
While it may seem like a passing comment, this quick exasperation may have more lasting effects than you intended. Your child may not have actually known better. It might even be her second offense. So the statement isn’t productive or supportive. By talking with her about the outcome of her actions, you’ll help her to learn to think things through more carefully the next time.
Instead try: “Did that work out the way you’d planned?” or “I prefer that you do it this way, please.”
5. “I don’t like when you play with that kid.”
Call it the forbidden fruit, but as soon as you reveal to your child that a friend of theirs isn’t your favorite, you’ve made time with that friend much more appealing. What don’t you like — his personality, or does he open up your child to some sort of harm? If he’s simply not your type, it’s best to simply let things lie. If he might expose your child to some element of danger, try to engage your child in a conversation about his friend through open-ended questions. The result will hopefully be an honest discussion about right versus wrong and the values that you would like to instill in your child.
Instead try: “What do you and this friend do when you’re together? What do you like about him?” or “I didn’t like how he spoke to me. How do you speak to other parents?”
6. “You aren’t doing that correctly — let me.”
If you’ve asked for your child’s help with a task, you need to step back and let him finish it, even if he’s not doing a bang-up job. When you jump in and take the task back, you’ve denied your child the chance to learn how to do it the right way, and he will be less likely to try other things you ask of him in the future. If you are able to let his sincere but sloppy effort slide, then do so. If you simply can’t stand it, try teaming up with him rather than cutting him out completely — perhaps show him some tricks of the trade or offer to do the work side-by-side with him.
Instead try: “Let me show you a helpful step that my mother once showed me.”
Has a seemingly innocent parenting phrase to your child ever backfired? Share your experiences.
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert at Care.com.
We recently had a death in the family that really impacted me more than I thought it would and my four year old didn’t understand. I tried to dismiss it because I knew I just couldn’t explain death to him just yet, but then his feelings were hurt when we didn’t take him to the celebration of life service because he over heard that we were saying “goodbye to John” and he wanted to say goodbye too. It can be so so touchy. I still don’t think my son understands death and I’m kind of glad he doesn’t yet, he’s just four its too much for a four year old to comprehend. I think as long as you validate your child’s feelings about things, that definitely good. I’m still not sure if I handled this situation in the right way.
Katie Bugbee says
Heather – I completely understand that dilemma, and I send my sincere condolences for your family’s loss. Death is such a difficult thing for children to understand, and as parents, we want to shield them from anything painful. You are on the right track with the ‘celebration of life’ approach though! Whether it’s a family member, a pet or even an insect caught in the backyard, children will at some point realize that individual lives come to an end, and it’s up to those of us still here to celebrate their existence and keep them alive in our hearts. That’s an abstract concept for a four-year-old, but something you might gradually begin to introduce if he keeps asking about John. You might even want to sit him down and talk about how he felt about John, fun memories he has and check in on how he’s feeling. Give him some room to ask questions too. And let him know you are always available for him to ask more questions. This might help your own healing process, as well!
Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families says
Great tips and suggestions. Thank you for sharing.