Scarred for life. We all have those memories of a time a parent said something that has stayed with us, well, forever. Never want to make the same mistake? As a start, here are 11 things to never say to your child.
1. Are You Going Out Looking Like That?
Children and teens often make poor attire choices. And while it might be your job to shield them from indecent exposure or personal embarrassment, shaming them or making them play the passive-aggressive guessing game of “What’s wrong with my outfit” isn’t productive. Asking them such a judgmental question will only make them second guess their choices for the rest of their lives. Alternatively, they might rebel, and while Lady Gaga has made an incredible career out of risky fashion choices that would make any parent cringe, the odds of your child being at Lady Gaga level are slim at best.
2. Ending a Demand with the Word “Okay”
You hear it all the time: “Jetson, we don’t run into the street… ok?” Or, “Maude, stop biting Willow… ok?” When you issue a direct command that actually demands absolute compliance (usually for safety reasons), why end it with an “ok?” The addition of the “ok” and the subsequent wheedling tone turns a command into a request, making adherence optional. This sort of bad parenting habit leads to things like motorized scooters illegally zipping down sidewalks and being thrown down anywhere and everywhere — people think it’s optional to follow basic rules.
3. You’re Such a Broken Person
Don’t say this to your child. Ever.
4. Why Are You So Stupid?
This goes on the list of truly terrible questions to ask your child. And, it’s really not a question at all. It’s destructive and just plain wrong. Feel free to question your child’s choices, and perhaps point out they might prefer making better ones, but avoid the term “stupid.”
5. Giving Your Kid the Finger
Every family has different communication standards. Some find flipping the bird funny. And, an unreasonable toddler driving you crazy because he suddenly doesn’t like wearing pants might tempt you to just give him the finger. This profane gesture is actually protected speech, but if you do it in jest, or in seriousness, your child will imitate you. What’s considered light-hearted fun at home could get them suspended at school. Children take a long time to understand boundaries and situational mores; teaching them the finger will only lead to them flipping off the wrong person before they figure it out.
6. Eat That or Else
Seriously, what’s the point of this? Making food an issue only leads to power struggles over it, which can lead to eating disorders. And an eating disorder can ruin your kid’s life. If your child really, truly hates a particular food, don’t make them eat it. Find a healthy alternative. Besides, sometimes an aversion to a particular food is meaningful; it could be that there’s an underlying allergy or intolerance. Don’t make mealtimes a battleground.
7. Don’t Eat That
A variation on the above theme. Telling your child what to eat, unless it’s poisonous, is counterproductive. There are no forbidden foods. What’s more important is teaching food choices in moderation. For instance, nutritionist Robert Ferguson bought his two kids Twinkies because they’d never tried one. “My eldest …didn’t like the taste. My young one said it was pretty good and didn’t finish it. Well now guess what? I’m not teaching restriction. I’m teaching choice,” Ferguson explains to Parentology.
8. Why Can’t You Be More Like (Insert Name of Any Person Who Isn’t Your Kid)?
Comparisons are odious. In the end, there will always be a kid who’s better behaved, gets better grades, is superior at sports… So what? These sort of competitive statements are a losing proposition for you and your child, because your child is uniquely themselves. They’ll never be that other kid. Besides, that other kid has other problems you’d find equally galling in the end.
9. Don’t Embarrass Me in Front of (Person Your Kid Doesn’t Care/Know About)
It’s completely fair to have expectations about basic politeness when in public or dealing with elders. However, those skills should have been instilled way before this point. By saying “don’t embarrass me,” you’re admitting weakness. Your child can’t embarrass you; he can only embarrass himself. And if you make someone else’s opinion is too important, a crafty child will use it to pull your chain in public, guaranteed.
10. You’re Fat
This is never acceptable. Ever. There are ways to approach the subject of weight and BFI (Body Fact Index rather than Body Mass Index), but it should never be in such blatantly hostile terms. There should be no such discussion of individual body parts, like “belly,” “butt” or “thighs,” either. And the term “thigh gap” should be banned everywhere because it’s absurd and anatomically impossible.
An expert quoted in Redbook had this to say. “Children who are overweight or obese can benefit from nutritional changes; but calling a child fat is hurtful and does nothing in providing guidance for how to slim down,” Kimber Shelton, psychologist and owner of KLS Counseling and Consulting Services in Dallas, TX said. “Negative body labeling and shaming feed into a culture of disordered eating and unhealthy body images.”
11. You’re Lazy
If your child is sluggish, that’s an indicator of malnourishment or depression. It isn’t laziness. Children aren’t lazy. However, if you’re spending most of your spare time camped out on the couch watching reality shows all day, you might want to reevaluate the example you’re setting for your child in terms of physical activity. Taking bike rides, hikes, and participating in outdoor activities teaches your child good exercise habits.
Another note: if your child isn’t doing well in school, they’re not being “lazy” about their academics. It could be indicative of a learning disorder, or maybe they’re just bored. Saying your child is “lazy” is a dead end.
Robert Ferguson, nutritionist
Redbook: Kimber Shelton, psychologist and owner of KLS Counseling and Consulting Services