5 Common But Harmful Phrases Parents Should Never Say To Their Children

What you say to your kid matters.

mother holding child in flower field Victoria Strelets / Shutterstock

By Tor Constantino.

Parenting is all at once the best, worst, most challenging, most rewarding, most frustrating, and most joyous job an adult can ever have.

However, as humans, we frequently respond to our kids based on the variances of circumstances, their actions or behaviors as well as our own state of being — physically, mentally, or emotionally.

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Like it or not, our words as parents have an impact — crippling or empowering — on our kids because the words we speak to our children today will ultimately become their internal talk track when they become adults in the future. Inevitably, we as parents will say something that can hurt or damage our kids in some way, shape, or form.

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Here are five common phrases that most of us heard growing up and sadly have repeated to our own kids — I know I have.

Here are 5 common but harmful phrases parents should never say to their children:

1. "Because I said so..."

Every parent has said this at least once. This is typically used in response to a child or teenager's request to do something that the parent disagrees with.

It's an illogical, non-reasoned response that's most frequently shouted at children out of frustration. This domineering phrase reinforces the weakness of the child and a sense that their opinion doesn't matter.

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2. "Do as I say, not as I do..."

This is another popular phrase that is barked at children. The problem here is the gross hypocrisy it represents.

While there are obviously legal adult activities that parents don't want their children engaging in (e.g. smoking, drinking alcohol, watching adult-rated movies … etc.) this phrase is used with much greater frequency on a wider range of issues.

Hypocrisy ultimately undermines trust — and that's one of the most important things kids need is the ability to trust their parents.

3. "Stay inside the lines..."

While this particular phrase is not likely to irreparably damage a child's psyche, it can definitely hurt and impede their creativity and problem-solving.


I used to love coloring in coloring books as a kid and was admonished to stay inside the lines — but rarely did. Now when I color with my own kids we have "crazy creativity contests" to see who can color their picture the wildest way possible.

I like to think that this simple activity is helping my kids in a small, subtle way see beyond barriers and think outside the box.

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4. "It's like I'm talking to a brick wall with you..."

This is perhaps the one that causes the most emotional pain in kids — I know it did in me.

The reason is that whenever my mom said it, I immediately thought of the phrase "Dumb as a brick" — so she was calling me a solid wall of dumbness, or at least that's how I interpreted it. I didn't think I was dumb, but I always thought she did when she said this to me.


If you're a sensitive child those types of words can hurt, especially when coming from a parent.

5. "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about..."

This is by far the most threatening, aggressive, and fear-invoking phrase of those listed here.

Parents need to recognize that when their children are crying there's a reason and it's an acceptable form of expression. This phrase misleads your child to believe that whatever is making them cry is not valid and their feelings don't matter.

Whether that's intended or not, that's the only way to interpret it for a young child. Even if the child is out of control, throwing a drop-down-floor-screaming-kicking tantrum, parents can't escalate the situation via threats and violence to their kids.


Somebody has to be the grown-up and that doesn't mean being the intimidating muscle.

Growing up I heard each of these phrases from my parents — regrettably, I’ve repeated some of them to my own kids.

I'm not a perfect parent, but I'm willing to learn to be a better parent. Hopefully, that will manifest as better parenting skills toward my children and less emotional baggage they'll unpack toward their own kids.

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Tor Constantino is a former journalist, speaker, best-selling author, and current corporate communications executive with an MBA degree, living in upstate New York, with 25+ years of experience as a professional writer. His writing has appeared IN Good Men Project, Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Fortune, BusinessInsider, Success.com, TIME, USAToday, and Yahoo!.