The 7 things you should stop saying to your kids.


Recently I overheard the following conversation in a coffee shop:

“Tarquin, Mummy would really like it if you didn’t throw the salt shaker at her”.

Tarquin’s response to this? Throwing the salt shaker at his mother. Because Tarquin is two.

Now, there has always been debate around the things we should stop saying to our kids. And I’m the first to admit that often, my first instinct when I see a toddler about to stick a five cent piece in a power socket is to yell, and to yell loudly “NO!” I always thought this was okay and actually, quite a natural reaction when a child was about to harm themselves but apparently not.

Apparently the word ‘No’ has negative connotations.

In fact, someone I know was telling me recently that she will never willingly use the word ‘No’ when speaking to her children. When she has them in the future.

Okay. You let me know how that works out for you.

And this is probably not the only thing I’ve been doing wrong. According to research recently conducted, seemingly harmless word and phrases can apparently be quite damaging.

So here, according to Shelley Phillips via, are words or phrases we should be eliminating from our vocabulary from now on in to encourage motivation and emotional connection between parents and their children:

1. “Good job!”

The biggest problem with this statement is that it’s often said repeatedly and for things a child hasn’t really put any effort into. This teaches children that anything is a “good job” when mom and dad say so (and only when mom and dad say so).

Instead try, “You really tried hard on that!” By focusing on a child’s effort, we’re teaching her that the effort is more important than the results. This teaches children to be more persistent when they’re attempting a difficult task and to see failure as just another step toward success.

Errmm, no, they didn’t “try hard”. Whatever it is they’ve just done well, they deserve to be told about. If I, as an adult, was told that ‘you tried’, I would immediately assume I’d failed.

I mean, put it this way, I feel like calling the Vatican to report a miracle every time one of my children flush the toilet after they go in there. I’m most definitely going to tell them they’ve done a ‘good job’ if they go the extra mile and change the empty toilet roll too. Hell, I’d consider a tickertape parade.


2. “Good boy (or girl)!”

This statement, while said with good intentions, actually has the opposite effect you’re hoping for. Most parents say this as a way to boost a child’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, it has quite a different effect. When children hear “good girl!” after performing a task you’ve asked them for, they assume that they’re only “good” because they’ve done what you’ve asked. That sets up a scenario in which children can become afraid of losing their status as a “good kid” and their motivation to cooperate becomes all about receiving the positive feedback they’re hoping for.

Instead, try “I appreciate it so much when you cooperate!”

If I started a sentence with “I appreciate it so much when you cooperate” to my 7 year old son, I’d lose him by ‘appreciate’. To be honest, it’s a pretty splendid moment when he selflessly shares or just sits quietly; I don’t see any harm in telling him that he’s been a good boy when I recognise this.  If my child ‘assumes they are only good because they have done what I’ve asked” then they assume right. Just like when DON’T do as they are told, they are also told.

3. “What a beautiful picture!”

When we put our evaluations and judgments onto a child’s artwork, it actually robs them of the opportunity to judge and evaluate their own work.

Instead try, “I see red, blue and yellow! Can you tell me about your picture?”

Yeah, so look, this is my son’s interpretation of Monet’s Sunflowers.

I see Red! Blue and Yellow! I see a Penis!

Did I tell him it was a beautiful picture? Damn straight I did. Because quite simply, it is. It’s HIS interpretation of art.  If anything is open to interpretation, it’s got to be art right? Did my husband and I have a chuckle when he wasn’t around? Of course we did. Seriously though, tell your kids their drawings are excellent. Because they most definitely always are.

4. “Stop it right now, or else!”

Threatening a child is almost never a good idea.

While it can be difficult to resist the urge to threaten, try sharing vulnerably and redirecting to something more appropriate instead.“It’s NOT OK to hit your brother. I’m worried that he will get hurt, or he’ll retaliate and hurt you. If you’d like something to hit, you may hit a pillow, the couch or the bed.”

Bern and the kids.

Sure, threats are probably not the greatest way to parent, but let’s face it, in the grown up world, we are also warned, rightfully so, that if we for instance, steal the office petty cash or bully our workmates, we’ll lose our jobs.

Look, kids already KNOW it’s not okay to hit their brothers but it’s fun to do so, so no amount of me sitting them down and telling them that I worry yada yada yada is going to change their minds. You know what will? Not being able to go to his mate’s birthday party on the weekend.

This kind of currency is the only one we have as parents and yes, I am usually willing to follow through with these threats, especially when I don’t want to take them there in the first place. This is how as kids, they grow into adults and learn that there are consequences to their actions.


5. “If you _____ then I’ll give you _____”

Bribing kids is equally destructive as it discourages them from cooperating simply for the sake of ease and harmony. This kind of exchange can become a slippery slope and if used frequently, you’re bound to have it come back and bite you. “No! I won’t clean my room unless you buy me Legos!”

Instead try, “Thank you so much for helping me clean up!”

I’m not a big believer in this either, I agree here. Although, having said that, my children have chores and they are paid pocket money on completion of these chores. I think all effort should be rewarded. I mean, I go to work and I expect to be paid for my efforts. I think it sets a great work ethic but of course, there has to have ground rules. I half agree with this one. I half don’t.

6. “You’re so smart!”

When we tell kids they’re smart, we think we’re helping to boost their self confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, giving this kind of character praise actually does the opposite. By telling kids they’re smart, we unintentionally send the message that they’re only smart when they get the grade, accomplish the goal, or produce the ideal result — and that’s a lot of pressure for a young person to live up to.

Instead, try telling kids that you appreciate their effort.

I think there can be a balance. My 14 year old received  an A in English, History, Art and French recently. Did I tell her she was smart in the subjects that she’d just aced? Yes. I did. Far out, why wouldn’t I? It doesn’t mean she’ll always ace these subjects but when she has achieved this highly, it didn’t really cross my mind to tell her she should really aim for an A plus next time. Believe me, an E plus in maths is a great leveller.

7. “Don’t cry.”

Being with your child’s tears isn’t always easy. But when we say things like, “Don’t cry,” we’re invalidating their feelings and telling them that their tears are unacceptable. This causes kids to learn to stuff their emotions, which can ultimately lead to more explosive emotional outbursts.

Try holding space for your child as he cries. Say things like, “It’s OK to cry. Everyone needs to cry sometimes. I’ll be right here to listen to you.”

Yeah, I’m down with this. I think whole generations of boys especially, were told that it’s not okay to cry. It is totally fine to cry. Boys, girls, if it upsets you, CRY. This is as it should be for now and for the rest of their lives.

As a parent, I understand what this author was trying to say. That constant praise and reinforcement could possibly lose its currency. I do believe however that the key here is balance. That you should recognise and acknowledge when your child does something and they do it well.  Because doing so builds confidence. And when a child feels confident, they also feel happy.

After all, that’s all we should really want for our children. To be happy. Right?

You can read the full LifeHack article here.

Do you agree or do you think we should be eliminating those words from our vocabulary?


Want more? Try these:

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