Ten Things to Avoid Saying to Your Kids

According to PBS’ “The Whole Child,” “Children who have self-confidence have a feeling of internal worth that enables them to welcome challenges and work cooperatively with others. When children don’t develop self-confidence, they tend to focus on failure instead of success, problems instead of challenges, and difficulties instead of possibilities.” Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics founder and CEO, Dr. Katherine Falwell, lists 10 sayings that parents should avoid in talking with their kids, because these tend to undermine efforts to build children’s self-esteem.

  1. “Great Job.” Tossing out a generic kudo every time your child masters a skill makes her dependent on your affirmation rather than her own motivation. Save praise for when it is truly warranted and be as specific as you can.
  2. “Practice makes perfect” sends the message that if you make mistakes, you didn’t train hard enough. Instead, encourage your child to work hard because he will improve and feel proud of his progress.
  3. “You’re okay” when your child has been hurt may make her only feel worse. If she’s crying, she isn’t okay, so help her understand and deal with her emotions, rather than discounting them.
  4. “Hurry up!” creates additional stress for your child. Instead, turn the act needed into a game: “Why don’t we race to see who can get her pants on first?”
  5. “I’m on a diet” and constantly talking about being “fat” may cause your child to develop an unhealthy body image. Talk about wanting to be healthy and how good exercise makes you feel instead.
  6. “We can’t afford that” sends the message that you’re not in control of your finances, which can be scary for kids. Try “We’re not going to buy that because we’re saving our money for more things,” which may give you an opportunity to talk about budgeting and managing money.
  7. “Don’t talk to strangers” is a tough concept for young kids to grasp. Who is a stranger? Someone who is nice to your child may not seem like a stranger to him, while police officers or firefighters may seem like strangers to avoid, if your child takes the concept literally. Instead, bring up scenarios and talk through how your child might handle them.
  8. Saying “be careful” as your child is attempting a physical feat may distract him from what he’s doing and cause him to lose focus. Rather, move close to spot him in case he takes a tumble, being as still and quiet as you can.
  9. “No dessert unless you finish your dinner” increases a child’s perceived value of the treat and diminishes her enjoyment of the meal itself. Try “First we eat our meal and then we have dessert” instead.
  10. “Let me help” can undermine your child’s independence because she’ll always be looking to others for answers. Try asking guiding questions to help her solve the problem herself.
adapted from Parent Magazine by Katherine Falwell, Ph.D., BCBA-D, founder and CEO, Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics

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