Should You Nix These 'Dirty Words' From Your Parenting Vocab?


Parenting Styles: Words Never To Say To Your Kids
What's with the parenting fear mongering these days?

Not too long ago, a parent who didn't set firm rules, tell her children to behave themselves or punish them when they acted out was thought to be an irresponsible parent. Now, in contrast, some of the most popular and commonly used words in parenting are considered to be off limits for the up-to-date and discerning parent. When did these words become, well, dirty? Here are some of my favorites:

"No" is now a no-no. A caretaker disciplining a child by using this word is — according to the new standard — being crude, insensitive, and even downright mean. Apparently, one is now supposed to use the technique of redirecting the child to another activity, as opposed to telling him to stop the inappropriate one. Best practice: Use both. Telling the child "no" is a clear communication of what is inappropriate — which is imperative to the child's learning. Then, redirect him to another activity (unless he needs removing from the room). The message gets across much better when they're used together.


Although these terms are not actually interchangeable, I lumped them together since many folks tend to toss them into the same basket. Punishment has become an intolerable phenomenon that "good" parents never use. After all, we wouldn't want to hurt our kids' feelings, would we? Punishment implies that their behavior was wrong, and no good parent would label their child's behavior in that negative way ... right?

Discipline covers ground rules about what's expected and what's not, plus the consequences needed when the child crosses the line. Best practice: Discipline is necessary for children. Not providing rules and expectations (reasonable ones, of course) is not caring for your child. Children who don't know what's expected of them do not feel safe; nor do kids who don't experience follow through with consequences for misbehaving. 

"Bad", when used in the context of, "You're being bad," is another forbidden word. Parents today aren't allowed to use words that imply negative judgment, since it's been drilled into them that this will damage their children and turn them into psychopathic criminals. Best practice: As long as you're not labeling the child himself as bad (such as, "You're a bad boy"), labeling the behavior as bad is perfectly fine and won't damage anybody. If you prefer, "You're behaving badly," works just as well.  Either way it will teach him that "bad" means "inappropriate", and that's good for his learning.

Right along with "bad" is the word "disappointed", when used in phrases such as, "I'm disappointed in you." Again, this implies negative judgment that discriminating parents won't use due to fear of damaging a child's self-esteem. Best practice: When used well, there is no harm in verbalizing disappointment about your child's actions. (She knows it anyway, so why not say it out loud?) Undue shaming should be avoided, but using this phrase few and far between, if it's truly called for, will help her inner guidance in the future.

Somewhere along the line, we've become convinced that all children must be winners when they play sports (or any game, for that matter). Of course it's nice when everyone gets a trophy or ribbon after the season, but what do they learn when it happens every time? "You lost," is not a phrase that many children hear these days. We want our children to feel like winners when they do their best, but we've taken the concept to the point of ridiculousness. Best practice: Be matter-of-fact and non-judgmental with "you lost" and your child will be fine with it. (Only when accompanied with a scowl or ridicule will this phrase be undesirable. Think: "You lost the game" instead of "You were a loser.") Your child will pick up that it's no big deal when he or she doesn't win, and life easily goes on. Your child will handle future losses in his or her life ever so much better with this attitude.

Rather than buy into the latest dirty parenting words, I suggest you think for yourself and trust your own judgment. Listen to your own inner guidance and you'll do fine. So will your kids. What parenting words do you consider to be "dirty"? Leave a comment below.

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Article contributed by

Dr. Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D.


Clinical Psychologist

Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D. (Dr. Shosh) specializes in moods during pregnancy and postpartum. She works through phone and other technologies with women and their partners worldwide.

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