Sometimes, the things we say with good intentions can convey the wrong message to our kids. Here are 15 examples of these.
1. Good job!
Used commonly and with good intentions, this kind of praise can make children dependent on external validation. Instead of throwing a blanket compliment to the air, point out what they did well. Try: "I like how you used colors in that painting."
2. You're so smart.
This kind of compliment can make children stay away from trying things they have a risk of failing at. Instead of attributing success to genetic characteristics, point out how hard they worked to achieve that success. Try instead, "I saw you worked so hard to complete that puzzle."
3. I'm proud of you.
Although commonly used across age groups, this sentence makes children rely on our validation. Instead try, "Good for you."
4. We can't afford that.
Children might feel weak knowing they will be affected by things they cannot control. Try instead: "We cannot buy that right now because we are saving money for something else."
5. You're okay.
Children's feelings do not need immediate fixing. They need to know that not feeling okay is a valid option too. Try instead, "That was a big bump. It must be hurting so bad. Do you need a hug?"
6. Practice makes perfect.
Sometimes, it doesn't. If we instill into our kids aiming for the perfect, they might have unrealistic expectations of their performance and might develop perfectionism. Instead, try: "Practice makes better."
7. Don't do that.
Children explore the world through actions. That's why, they might resist the words that limit action. We can offer them healthy boundaries instead of trying to make them stop. Try instead, "We use our hands to gently pat the dog."
8. You didn't mean to hit your brother.
Yes, they meant to hit their brother because they were frustrated. They just don't have the tools to properly self-regulate. Instead of putting words into their mouths, we might separate emotions from the actions, validating the emotion but pointing out the harmful action. Try instead, "It's okay to feel angry sometimes. But it's not okay to hit your brother."
9. You're a big girl/boy now.
Children go back to old behaviors when they're nervous, anxious, or scared. When we tell them they are a big kid now, they won't make sense of their feelings. Instead, try to understand the root cause, validate their feelings and empathize with them.
10. Big girls/boys don't get scared
All children, even adults can get scared and all emotions are okay to have. If we tell our children not to get scared, they might get used to bottling up their emotions. Try instead, "It's okay to feel scared. I feel scared too sometimes."
11. Don't be mad at your sister.
Like all other emotions, anger is okay to have too. Children need to know that it's okay to get frustrated. Behaviors that are caused by anger can only be changed if the emotional root cause is validated. Try instead: "It's okay to feel frustrated with your sister. It must be very hard having to share your favorite toy."
12. I told you so...
Children need to develop their own judgment by learning from their own mistakes. Instead of making them doubt their own rational judgment (read more in "Are you gaslighting your children?"), try saying that it's okay to fail and they can try to do better next time.
13. Mommy's not crying.
When feeling down, we don't need to pretend to be well for our children. Children benefit from seeing how we deal with our difficult emotions. This is a way to model emotional regulation for them. Try instead, "Mommy is feeling a bit sad. It's okay to feel this way sometimes. It will get better soon."
14. If you eat all your dinner, you can have dessert.
Rewards keep children from building their own motivations. A reward that's linked to food is especially harmful in multiple ways, damaging their relationship with food, keeping them from learning to enjoy a meal and a treat at the same time, and finding a natural balance in life. Try instead, "We will have desert as an afternoon snack today."
15. Come here, NOW.
Children need time to form their actions. Unlike adults, they do not live to the minute, so it matters to give children some slack time in between activities. Try instead: "We are leaving in five minutes. Do you want to use the slide or the swing during that time?"