Kids say the darndest things, right? But what about the shit we as parents say to our kids? I know I have said regrettable things because I was frustrated, exhausted, or just unsure of what to say in a particular moment. The fact that there are so many parenting books should tell us that none of us really know what we’re doing.
Sometimes we knowingly step in it and sometimes we just repeat phrases or excuses to our kids that had once been told to us. But not everything we experienced and heard as a kid served us well. And whether we learned it or not, we all have room to be more intentional about the guidance and feedback we offer our children. Based on some of the most common themes I found while reading about this subject, here are some things you should stop telling kids.
“I don’t know how we’re going to afford that.”
“You just cost me [insert amount] of money.”
“I have to work to make money to pay for things you need.”
“How much I make doesn’t concern you.”
Kids are curious about money and they should have an appreciation for its value, as well as understand its limitations. Money can’t fix all problems, but it does provide a sense of security. Kids want and need a sense of security even when money is tight; they don’t need to hold onto adult fears or feel like they are to blame for a parent’s stress over money. Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Mind Over Money, says not to give our kids financial information that could make them anxious—especially when they don’t have control over the situation. And be honest with kids about income to reduce shame and silence around any income level. Money helps us get what we need and want, but it doesn’t define us.
“It’s not a big deal.”
“Don’t be a baby.”
“Stop worrying about it.”
Has anyone ever told you to calm down while you were upset? How did that go? Kids are humans too, and tend to have the biggest feelings with the fewest tools to manage them. While there isn’t always time or patience to “properly” deal with our kids’ emotions—especially right before school—there is always a way to recognize what they are feeling.
Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, says, “‘You don’t feel that way’ is one of the worst things parents can say to their children. Parents should validate children’s feelings even if they don’t agree with them or wish they didn’t feel that way.” For kids, losing out on a turn on a swing or missing dessert is a big deal, so tantrums should be expected. Frustration and anxiety go hand-in-hand when learning new skills too. It can be easy for adults to work a puzzle, tie our shoes, and read a book, but our kids struggle through these big-to-them steps toward independence. Remind them that it’s okay to have big feelings and help them find a way to name their emotions so they can work through them. Stop telling kids to calm down; squashing the expression of an emotion doesn’t make it go away.
“Just give Grandma a hug.”
“You need to share.”
“Always listen to adults.”
“I don’t care if you don’t like them, it’s rude to not play with them.”
“We only tease/pick on/hurt the ones we love.”
Boundaries are great, and setting limits on what feels good or doesn’t are some of the most important life skills we can offer our kids. By allowing them to take control of their bodies and who they want to touch them—yes, even when it’s a hug from us or Grandma—we are empowering them to tell others when they want to be touched or not. They are also learning that they need to ask for consent and then respect someone’s response when it’s given to them. These lessons are learned through the items we share, who we spend our time with, and how we allow others to treat us. It’s important for kids to know when it’s okay to question adults too, and trust their guts when it comes to tricky people. Children are under zero obligations to be friends with everyone; stop telling kids to tolerate anything that makes them uncomfortable because it’s the “nice” thing to do.
“Eat everything on your plate.”
“You’re starting to get a little chubby; you should exercise more.”
“I can’t eat that; I’m on a diet.”
Diet culture and the emphasis on body image and beauty “standards” are bullshit, but aren’t going away any time soon. We, as guardians, can combat this by emphasizing the fact that food is meant to give our bodies the energy and nutrients we need to be healthy. Exercise is meant to make us feel good and is not to be seen simply as something to do to lose weight. Encourage choices that make your kids’ bodies feel good without adding shame or toxicity to their relationship with food and movement. Model this for your kids by keeping any negative internal messages you are still battling about your body to yourself, and remind them of the good things our bodies can do no matter our size.
“You can be anything you want to be.”
“You’re so smart!”
“Just try harder.”
“You’re perfect just the way you are.”
“Practice makes perfect.”
We don’t want kids to become too arrogant in their abilities because we tell them they are perfect little angels all of the time. Yet, we don’t want to raise kids who feel like they are always failing to meet our expectations of them. Failure is good. Feeling like a failure is not. And while working hard is admirable, it may not mean your child will achieve what school, society, or you think is best. When we overemphasize how smart a child is when they get straight As we unintentionally send a message that their intelligence is based on grades or awards.
Focus instead on your child’s accomplishments without comparing them to others. Praise their efforts, creativity, and the joy something brought them rather than the end product. Also, perfection is an unreasonable and unachievable goal. We all have room to make improvements, but striving to be without flaws is a recipe for disappointment and mental health issues.
“Toughen up. Crying is for girls.” (When speaking to male identities.)
“Girls can’t do that.” (When speaking to any identity.)
“Is she your girlfriend?” (When speaking to a male identity who has a friend who identifies as a girl.)
“When you get married…”
“[Insert any object, role, idea] is for [insert any gender].”
For the love of all things good, please stop placing heteronormative expectations on your kids. Toys, clothing, jobs, colors, etc. do not come with gender. Beyond letting go of gender stereotypes, let go of your assumptions about your child’s gender. Assigned gender at birth does not always mean assigned gender for life. Let kids be kids and follow their lead.
I’m sure there are 100 other things we should stop telling kids because they will either leave a mark or could be said in a better way. We’re not perfect either, but we can try to be more thoughtful when talking to our kids. And when do say something we wish we hadn’t, we can always loop back and have a discussion with our kids about ways we wish we’d handled the situation better. Showing humility goes a long way in earning our kids’ trust and respect.
This article was originally published on