“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will reap its fruit thereof” is a quote taken from the book of Proverbs 18:21.
This quote from the Holy Bible holds as research done over the years by psychologists have linked most mental health cases to childhood trauma as a result of words and phrases used by parents on their children.
Your words carry both life and death. With life and light, it builds your child. It helps their confidence and esteem and in turn, produces mentally healthy adults. However, your words can cause death and darkness when they make your children become timid and broken adults, finding it hard to navigate this world.
Here are ten phrases that, no matter how tempting (because most of us grew up with this phrase), you should never use during your interactions with your children at any age.
1. “Stop crying, you are not a baby.”
Telling a child to stop crying invalidates their emotions, rather ask what the problem is in a caring manner. It makes them trust you to communicate their feelings and tell you their problems anytime. Children cry, that is what they do. And when they do, comfort them and listen to their problem.
2. “You did great, but…”
When a compliment is followed with ‘but,’ it negates that compliment. It takes your child’s mind and focus away from their victories and makes them focus on their inadequacies. Rather, alongside the compliment, let them know you are proud of them and trust their abilities.
3. “Don’t eat that, you’ll get fat.”
Concerns about your child’s weight are understandable. Using phrases like the above will not make them pick up healthier eating habits. It is outright body shaming. Rather, focus on the benefits and delicious taste of healthy food. Commenting on their weight only hurts their self-esteem.
4. “I’m disappointed in you.”
Many people have grown up scarred by these words and it has adversely affected every part of their life. As much as disappointment is a valid feeling, expressing it to a child only makes them think less of themselves and build strongholds of negativity in their mind. Instead of disappointment, say something like, “I’m not happy with your actions. Please avoid doing… in the future.”
5. “You better do what I say or else…”
I know this might have been effective in making your child behave, but let us be sincere, it is a threat. Using fear to discipline children is unhealthy and usually backfires. Have you noticed how they become used to your threats? A better approach would be to explain why you’d like something done, and they’ll be more likely to comply.
6. “You’re too sensitive.”
Being sensitive is not a crime. Only unloving and unattuned parents want to shift the responsibility and blame their behaviour on their children’s supposed shortcomings. Since young children don’t have the self-confidence to reject this assertion, they end up assuming and believing that being sensitive is a problem, and they begin to mistrust their feelings and perceptions.
7. “What’s wrong with you?”
Except your tone is compassionate when using this phrase, please stay away from it. Issues can arise when you speak these words in an angry tone. In such a situation, your child internalizes and believes these words and begins to think something is wrong with them. This kind of message can take a lifetime to get over, even with therapy.
8. “You are just like your mother/father.”
Hmm. Yes, we know a snake will give birth to something long, and a lion does not give birth to a goat. However, comparing your child to a parent, especially when they have done something wrong or made a mistake, makes them feel they inherited the bad behaviour from that parent. This makes them not accountable for their actions. It also reveals your grievances towards the other parent which can create division. Instead, let them know their wrong and the consequences of their actions.
9. “Leave me alone.”
Indeed, parenting is not for the faint-hearted. However, consistently telling your child to leave you alone when you need a break could damage their way of thinking about spending time with you. You will be pushing them away in this manner, and they’ll likely not come to you and tell you things in the future. If you need a break, calmly let them know.
10. “You are too lazy.”
According to Stacy Haynes, a child psychologist, “Children are not lazy. Often, there is an underlying reason why they aren’t able to accomplish what’s being asked of them. Parents attack a child’s self-esteem and self-worth with this statement. And let’s face it, none of us have ever been motivated to do better by being called lazy.”
These are the ten phrases to avoid when communicating with your children. Parenting involves a lot of patience and courage and parents are a child’s first encounter with the world. Therefore, whatever experience they have with their parents leaves an everlasting imprint.