This will be a tough read for some moms and parents, but it shares a vital truth: Parents who say the following 5 things to their kids are unknowingly damaging their children. Most parents may only use one or two of these tactics when scolding their children – but, even used occasionally, these words are vicious, and if your children hear them day in and day out from you, these words could be the only things your kids will remember about their childhood.
1. “You Never…” And “You Always…”
Parents will often say, “You never finish what you start,” or “You always leave a mess.” These absolutes draw a box around your children, defining them by telling them that the way they just acted is set in stone – that this is how they will behave for the rest of their lives.
“Never” and “Always” mean “Forever” to our children. They believe it when their parents tell them that they will never get good grades if they don’t concentrate. They figure that since they have trouble concentrating, they are destined to get poor grades. If their parents tell them that they’re always wasting time, they will not discover how to focus their energy productively. If you want your kids to be motivated to try, stay away from saying absolutes like “Never” and “Always.”
2. “Why Can’t You Be Good For A Change?”
This immediately tells the child that he is “bad.” Parents sometimes get so upset about what their child did that they forget to distinguish the person from the action. Separating the child from his behavior means saying, “No, taking Bobby’s smart phone without permission is stealing, not borrowing. You know that is wrong. Now, what are you going to do to make this right?” This emphasizes that the behavior was bad, not the child. It allows the child to see that his behavior is something he has control over and that he can act to remedy the situation. Instead, too often parents will just yell, “What’s wrong with you?” or “So, now you’re a thief?” Using words like these blur the line between the child’s sense of self and his behavior. Most kids cannot distinguish the two without a parent helping. As a result, he thinks you are scolding him for being who he is, and that you see him as a bad person for misbehaving. So, make it a point to help your children understand that it’s the bad action that you are angry at and not them personally.
3. “You’ll Never Amount To Anything”
Saying this robs your child of hope – the hope that he (or she) will ever be able to succeed at anything. Repeatedly hearing this crystallizes in his mind that somehow he is defective and cannot achieve what others can in school and in life. Unfortunately, all too often, this becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” The child reasons: “My parents don’t think I’ll ever accomplish anything. I’m just not good enough. So, why even bother trying?”
4. “Why Can’t You Be Like Your Sister (or Brother)?”
It is so easy to fall into comparing your less achieving child with your other child – the family prodigy. Some parents mistakenly believe that the way to motivate their struggling child is to constantly compare him or her to their “straight A” or “Star Quarterback” child. In real life, this almost always backfires. The bar is set so high that the less-appreciated sibling can’t imagine ever achieving what his brother or sister seems to do with such ease, so he gets angry, acts out or totally gives up. Moreover, these parents are driving a wedge of resentment or even hatred between their children that can last a lifetime.
5. “Are You, Stupid? You Never Do Anything Right.”
Although it is obvious to you that your child may not have thought before acting, this is a devastating thing to say. Your son or daughter may not have matured enough to reason the situation through. Maybe he or she has ADHD or felt too overwhelmed to make a smart decision. But calling your child “stupid” is not the way to prevent your child from making this mistake again. All it does is attack your child’s belief in his ability to do better next time.
(There are actually parents who sabotage their children by not explaining exactly what they want done, then afterwards saying, “See, I knew you couldn’t do it.” They set their children up to fail so that they can accuse them of being incapable of doing the task correctly. This is a selfish ego trip for the parents, but very damaging to children.)
When parents call their child “stupid” or tell him he can’t do anything right, they are telling their child that he is incapable of learning, changing and improving. Often times, the badly done chore or project was caused by the child misunderstanding part of what needed to be done, or not being able to focus. These are fixable, changeable issues. By insisting that your child will never do anything right, you are generalizing one small mistake and spreading the condemnation onto everything the child tries to do. At least, that is how your child will see it. He made one mistake, but that means that he is condemned to a life of always being “the stupid kid.”
What we say to our children, the tone of voice we use and how often we say it, are keys to either building our kids up or tearing them down. Kids need positive reinforcement from their parents. They hang on every bit of praise we dole out and are crushed when we ignore or belittle their efforts.
The realization that we have this much power over another human being should humble us before God, who must believe in our potential to be great parents, or he wouldn’t have given us children. How many parents throw away this gift by selfishly attacking or trampling their own children with their words?
If you have to admit that you have used some of these devastating phrases to scold your children, start doing the opposite.
- Don’t expect them to fail; instead expect great things from your kids. You may be surprised at how well the “self-fulfilling prophecy” works when you let your children know that you expect them to succeed.
- Don’t leave them hanging. Instead, equip your children with skills, and chances to use those skills, giving them every opportunity to succeed by learning along the way.
- Praise them in a 2:1 ratio – twice as often as you correct them. Your praise will boost their self-esteem and make them willing to try harder.
- Lastly, support them lovingly when they fail, and give them a face-saving way to get up and try again. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were a kid again.