8 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Children

November 24, 2016

5 min read


Including “Who spilled the milk?” and “How was school today?”

1. Who spilled the milk?

Parenting includes many different jobs – chef, chauffeur and cheerleader. Don't add detective to the list.

Whodunnit questions – “Who spilled all the juice and the floor and didn’t clean it up?” – only lead to lying and accusations. Instead describe the problem and ask for help, “Oh no! There’s juice all over the floor. We need a mop and some paper towels.” You can tell the family later, “I don’t know who spilled the juice and I don’t care. That person needs to remember in the future to clean up after themselves.”

2. How was school today?

Many children have a hard time answering open ended questions like, “What did you do in school today?” They often don't like to answer any questions at the end of their long day. You can just give your child a warm hello and a greeting, “Great to see you…”

After your child has time to unwind, you can ask some close-ended questions like, “Did you color or paint today?” “Was today an art or gym day?” These questions will help your child open up and talk.

You can also have everyone at dinner share the best thing that happened to them that day. Some other questions to ask, “How were you brave today?” “How were you kind today?” “How did you fail today?”

3.Stop…(twirling your hair!…being so wild!)

Direct commands are usually invitations for a power struggle. This is especially true if you have a strong-willed child. Not only that, there are children have a hard time processing the command and then actually carrying out the command. It looks like they are being defiant, but in actuality they are struggling to understand the directions thrown at them while curbing their behavior.

It is helpful to tell children what they can do instead of what they can’t and give them a few seconds to comply. Instead of saying, “Stop twirling your hair!” you can say, “Hands belong in your lap.” Instead of saying, “Stop being so wild!” You can say, “Inside is for quiet voices and quiet feet.”

4. We need to go now!

Children have a hard time leaving places they love. Make sure to give your children, 5-10 minute warnings before you head out. You can say, “I am letting you know we are leaving in 10 minutes. In 5 more minutes we will start to get ready to go.”

5. Great job!

Most parents have heard by now that that encouraging kids by saying, “Good job” or “You are wonderful” does not build confidence. It actually does the opposite. It trains kids to rely on others approval instead of listening to their gut feelings. They become more tentative about making their own decisions.

Instead we can describe what we see: “You hit the ball and ran to first base!” “You got into the bath and washed yourself up!” “You cleared all the dishes!”

6. You always… You never…

When we start our conversations with “You always are late…,” or “You never listen…” we immediately put the other person on the defensive. It is also sending a negative message, that they are never on time and they are not good listeners. Furthermore we are reinforcing negative behavior because the more you point out the negative the more negative you will get in return. The more times I pointed out that my kids were late, not listening or being disrespectful or non-compliant, the more likely they would perpetuate that behavior.

Turn the above statements around by saying: “I know you know how to listen.” “I know we can figure out a way to get out on time.”

7. “We don't cry about…lost toys…losing the game…”

Crying can actually be a great stress reliever; it removes toxins from the body that build up due to emotional stress. It is good to let kids just cry it out and let them know it is okay.

Yes, children cry about the silliest things, at least to our adult minds. However, these things are important to children. Rav Yisroel Salanter said that when a child’s toy boat breaks, to him it is as if he is a merchant and all his goods were lost at sea.

Let children cry in peace and empathize with them. “It can be so frustrating to lose your toy!” “You and your team worked so hard and you really wanted to win the game.” Ironically this is what helps them deal with their feelings. It calms them down and they can then recognize that it might not be so bad after all.

8. “You are so smart…”

In documented studies, children praised in this way have a hard time performing well academically, are more anxious about school and shy away from challenges. Children who are told they're smart believe that intelligence is something you have or don’t. They figure if you have to work hard at a task it means you are “stupid”. They have limited strategies to cope with academic setbacks.

Instead we need to praise children for their effort, for working hard, persevering at a difficult task and figuring out solutions to problems. Children who are praised in this way are motivated to learn and will challenge themselves academically. They feel that they have control over their intelligence and they only have to increase their effort to succeed at school.

Be descriptive and focus on his accomplishments: “You put effort into your book report. You read the book, answered the questions and drew a picture for the cover. You had it ready for the due date. That’s called being responsible.”

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