The 15 Most Damaging Phrases You Can Say To Your Kids

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mom talking to young son

How we speak to our children literally determines the future of humankind. We can be cruel, or we can inspire. This article takes a look at both, as written by a very motivated parent.

First, an analogy: If we’re in a car leaving our home to head to work, how much attention do we pay to oncoming traffic as we approach an intersection? How much attention do we give to we are in relation to the intersection, how fast or slow we must go, and all other aspects of driving safely? A lot!

Why? Because our lives (and others') depend on it. One second of poor attention can result in a life-taking mistake.

This may seem like a strange question to ask in relation to how we speak to our children, but consider how much immediate awareness we have about the words we speak or the emotions we show when we interact with our kids. For a rare few, it’s no different from driving a car. But for most of us, we are not even close to the diligence we give to getting safely from point A to point B.

Quite frankly this truth is a travesty, but one that can be instantly changed. In fact, in this article I will share 15 specific ways to hurt a child with words — and how to say something kind, instead. 

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But first, before speaking to why what we say to our children is critically important please allow me to share a very sensitive personal experience.

I have three children. They are all adults today. Two of them I’m very close with. There is love, respect for each other, care, concern, and friendship. None of us are perfect and we still have our moments, but we are constantly learning how to be better from the interactions and conversations we have with each other.

My third and oldest child has chosen not to speak or connect with his mother and myself for many years.

To say I miss him is an understatement. We were very close when he was young. He was not the easiest child to raise because, well, I was new to being a father, and he was abnormally brilliant. Actually, far smarter than I. Literally reading at the age of two and very black and white about all aspects of life.

I could not have stepped into a more challenging learning ground, but let me be very clear about one thing: I loved the challenge, and it was unquestionably one of my most valuable life experiences. And I failed in that we are not connected today. 

Some would say I should not hold myself responsible for the solid wall he has placed between us. There is some truth to that. And it is also very true that if I could identify where the rift began and what created the situation that exist at this time and I could go back and change things, or even repair things today I would in a heartbeat.

Forget right or wrong, as a parent our connection to our children is priceless.

In fact, I will say there is no more valuable life on earth than that of our children. They are our teachers, our inspiration to create and provide and they are unquestionably our future. And without healthy children growing into healthy adults we perpetuate a world in an ever increasing decline of contribution, responsibility, morality, safety, choice, kindness, consciousness and love.

The way we communicate with our children greatly impacts their emotional well-being and self-esteem. It's important to choose our words carefully and provide constructive and supportive feedback.

RELATED: 5 Secretly Effective Ways To Talk To Your Kids (So They Actually Listen)

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Here are 15 things we shouldn't say to our kids — and what to say, instead

1. You're worthless

This phrase undermines a child's sense of self-worth and can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Such a statement strikes at the heart of their sense of significance and can literally last a lifetime.

What to say instead: "You have so many unique qualities that make you special."

This statement recognizes and celebrates the child's individuality, promoting a positive self-image and self-esteem. Caveat: You must know what those qualities are when making such a statement. If they are not clear to you the child will not believe what you say.

2. I wish you were more like your brother (sister or some other child)

Comparing children to their siblings or close friends can create a sense of rivalry and make the child feel like they are not accepted for who they are.

What to say instead: "Each of you has your own strengths and talents that I so appreciate!"

By acknowledging each child's strengths and talents, this statement is valuable for a child as it recognizes their individuality, fosters self-acceptance and confidence, nurtures their potential, promotes appreciation for diversity, supports holistic development, and contributes to a positive learning environment. Yes, such a simple statement can mean all of this to a growing child.

3. You'll never amount to anything

Such a statement can crush a child's aspirations and discourage them from pursuing their goals, leading to a lack of motivation and self-belief.

What to say instead: "I believe in your potential to achieve great things."

This statement can be incredibly valuable for a child by instilling confidence, motivation, resilience, and a positive mindset. It sets the foundation for them to believe in themselves, pursue their passions, and work towards realizing their goals and dreams.

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4. You're always a disappointment

This phrase instills a constant sense of failure in a child, making them feel incapable of meeting expectations and causing long-lasting emotional distress. It creates avoidance and separation and between parent and child.

What to say instead: "I love and appreciate you no matter what!"

This statement is valuable for a child as it provides a foundation of unconditional love and support. It promotes emotional well-being, self-acceptance, resilience, positive relationships, emotional regulation, and the development of empathy and kindness. This affirmation helps children navigate the complexities of life with confidence, knowing they are cherished and valued unconditionally.

5. You're so stupid

Using derogatory language belittles a child's intelligence and erodes their confidence, hindering their ability to learn and grow. Not to mention they won’t like you!  Plus you are literally giving them the language to be a bully to other kids.

What to say instead: "Mistakes are opportunities for growth, and I know you can learn from them."

This statement is valuable for a child as it fosters a positive mindset, resilience, a growth mindset, accountability, a reduction in the fear of failure, a learning culture, and self-esteem. It equips children with the necessary mindset and skills to embrace challenges, learn from their mistakes, and continue growing throughout their lives.

A child’s mind is all about inquiry. This one statement is the foundational belief that converts inquiry into a discipline, something we all benefit from.

6. I don't love you anymore

Expressing withdrawal of love can deeply wound a child, creating insecurity and emotional instability that can and most likely will persist into adulthood.

What to say instead: "My love for you is unconditional, no matter what happens."

This statement is valuable for a child as it provides emotional security, promotes self-acceptance, fosters trust and open communication builds emotional resilience, establishes healthy boundaries, cultivates empathy and compassion, and enhances their sense of identity and belonging. This affirmation helps children develop a healthy self-image, navigate challenges, and to build strong and loving relationships.

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7. You're such a failure

Labelling in general can be devastating and cruel. Labeling a child as a failure reinforces negative self-perception and can hinder their willingness to take risks or try new things. Rather than creating independence and a desire to try new things you inadvertently make them dependent on you and others for their needs.

What to say instead: "You've shown great resilience and determination in the face of challenges."

Overall, such a statement is valuable for a child as it provides recognition, encouragement, and motivation. It promotes a growth mindset, strengthens resilience and coping skills, encourages self-reflection and self-awareness, offers positive reinforcement, and contributes to the development of a positive identity. This affirmation empowers children to independently face future challenges with confidence and demonstrates that their efforts and abilities are valued and appreciated.

8. Why can't you be like other kids?

Comparing a child to their peers can breed feelings of inadequacy and make them feel like they are constantly falling short of expectations.

What to say instead: "You have your own unique qualities that make you special"

For a child this promotes self-acceptance, celebrates differences, builds confidence, encourages self-expression, nurtures talents and passions, fosters respect for individuality, and cultivates a positive mindset. This affirmation helps children develop a strong sense of self, embrace their individuality, and navigate the world with a positive and empowered outlook.

RELATED: 18 Things Every Child Needs To Hear From Their Parents

9. You're a burden to me

Implying that a child is a burden can create a sense of guilt, shame, and worthlessness, damaging their self-esteem and emotional well-being. We can expect a child to look anywhere else besides their home for a sense of belonging or desirability.

What to say instead: "You bring joy to my life, and I'm grateful to have you."

This strengthens emotional connections, provides validation and importance, offers positive reinforcement, expresses gratitude and appreciation, enhances emotional well-being, strengthens relationships, and fosters self-identity and empowerment. This affirmation helps children develop a positive self-image, thrive in their relationships, and understand the impact they can have on the lives of others.

10. You'll never understand

Dismissing a child's thoughts, feelings, or opinions invalidates their experiences and prevents healthy communication, potentially leading to difficulties in expressing themselves in the future.

What to say instead: "I may not fully understand, but I'm here to listen and support you."

This is so valuable because it validates their feelings, offers emotional support, demonstrates empathy and compassion, encourages trust and open communication, provides problem-solving and guidance, builds resilience, and strengthens relationships. This affirmation creates a safe and supportive environment for the child, enabling them to express themselves and seek the support they need.

11. You're so lazy

Again, a very cruel label. Using negative labels like "lazy" can demotivate a child and reinforce a fixed mindset, inhibiting their potential for personal growth and development. Ultimately our efforts are everything. Acceptance, inclusivity, and desire are all negatively impacted and the futility of one's efforts has been called out.

What to say instead: "I've noticed all the effort you put into your tasks, and I'm proud of you."

This statement provides recognition, encouragement, and positive reinforcement, fosters self-belief, and self-worth, cultivates a growth mindset, strengthens the parent-child relationship, and nurtures intrinsic motivation. This affirmation empowers children to take pride in their efforts, continue striving for excellence, and approach their tasks with a positive and motivated attitude.

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12. You're just like your [negative trait] parent

Associating a child with negative traits or comparing them unfavorably to a parent can create a sense of shame and damage their self-identity. It also creates separation and possible push-back. In a world where divorce and single parenting have unfortunately become the norm, this one statement can do more to depreciate the value a child has for their parent. It also demonstrates that it is OK to judge others poorly.

What to say instead: "You have your own individuality that makes you who you are."

This affirmation to your child promotes self-acceptance, authenticity, respect for differences, identity development, confidence and empowerment, resilience, self-expression, and the celebration of diversity. This affirmation helps children embrace their unique qualities, develop a strong sense of self, and foster positive relationships and interactions with others.

13. You're too fat/ugly/skinny

Making derogatory comments about a child's appearance can lead to body image issues, low self-esteem, and a distorted perception of self-worth. Such a statement is literally body image brutality that can result in life-long emotional and physical issues.

What to say instead: "You are beautiful/handsome just the way you are."

Radically different than the first statement as it promotes self-acceptance, body positivity, confidence, countering unrealistic beauty standards, embracing uniqueness, developing empathy and acceptance, cultivating a positive self-image, and promoting a healthy body image. This affirmation helps children develop a strong sense of self-worth, navigate societal pressures, and foster positive relationships with their own bodies and others.

14. I regret having you

Expressing regret about a child's existence can deeply wound their emotional well-being, causing feelings of rejection, abandonment, and unworthiness.

What to say instead: "Having you in my life has brought me so much happiness."

This statement is important for a child as it strengthens emotional connections, affirms their importance, builds self-esteem, nurtures positive relationships, encourages emotional expression, fosters a sense of belonging, and teaches about the reciprocity of happiness. This affirmation creates a loving and supportive environment for the child, enhancing their emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships.

15. You ruin everything

Blaming a child for negative outcomes or problems can burden them with unnecessary guilt and lead to a belief that they are responsible for everything that goes wrong. With guilt come shame, blame, and resentment. We could go years without knowing that harbored resentments have got in the way of every one of our good parenting efforts.

What to say instead: "We all make mistakes, and together we can find solutions."

First and foremost, this is the truth for all of us. For a child, the statement normalizes mistakes, encourages problem-solving, builds resilience, promotes collaboration and support, cultivates responsibility and accountability, emphasizes learning from failure, and aligns with a growth mindset. This affirmation helps children develop a positive attitude toward mistakes, fosters resilience, and equips them with the skills and mindset necessary to navigate challenges and find solutions in a supportive and collaborative manner. What adult would not want to grow up with this certainty?

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It's important to remember that children are vulnerable and impressionable, and the way we speak to them can have a lasting impact on their emotional and psychological development. Using positive and constructive language, offering support, and practicing empathy and understanding are crucial for nurturing their self-esteem and well-being.

You can be the constant inspiration that drives them to contribute and build a better world for the future of our planet and our human race. It's worth the extra time and effort. 

Larry Michel is the Founder of the Institute of Genetic Energetics and a Relationship Restoration Counselor, helping individuals, couples, and companies discover the deepest influences that drive their relationships to flourish.