10 Low-Key Unkind Things Parents Say That Drive Kids Away

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mom talking to young daughter

There is not one parent in the world who wants to say things to their kids that will drive them further away and cause them not to trust us.

We want to give our kids all the love and support that they need to grow into healthy, happy adults.

Unfortunately, parents are only human and fallible and do this parenting thing without any training. As a result, we sometimes say things that can cause them not to trust us.

None of us want to use damaging phrases that can hurt our children. We only want the best for them and we try to be the best parent that we can be. Unfortunately, sometimes, we say things that we don’t want to say.

Perhaps we say them because our parents said them to us. Maybe we say them because we are in a bad place. Maybe we say them with the best of intentions but in a way that might be hurtful.

Think carefully about the things that you say to your kids every day. Your words have a bigger effect on them than you might think. As a result, choosing your words carefully is the key to helping your child grow into the healthy and happy child you want them to be.

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Here are 10 things parents say that discourage kids from opening up to them in the future

1. I don’t want to hear it

Imagine if you were trying to tell someone something and you were told that they didn’t want to hear it. How would that make you feel?

Many parents say this phrase when they don’t want to hear their kid’s justifications for something that has happened. Unfortunately, telling your kid that you don’t want to hear what they have to say will cause two problems.

The first is that they will learn that you aren’t interested in what they have to say and that might lead them to resent you and not share anything with you going forward, good or bad.

The second is that you won’t have an opportunity to learn what occurred in a specific instance. Perhaps your assumptions about what happened are wrong and if you just listened to your kid, you would learn that and be able to act accordingly.

Instead of saying, “I don’t want to hear it,” take a deep breath and listen to what your kid is saying. You will be glad you did.

2. Leave me alone

Of course, we all like our space, especially if we are in a bad place. But, for kids, especially young ones, being alone is often not a first choice.

So, when they are told by their parent to leave them alone, they just don’t understand why.

No matter what the age of the child, they might believe that being told to leave their parent alone might be because of something that they have don’t wrong or that you don’t like them anymore.

As a result, being rejected by a parent, even if for a short period of time, can have a damaging effect on a child.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t get your alone time but you can definitely ask for it in a different way. Instead of saying "Leave me alone," say "Mommy/daddy needs some alone time."

It’s all about not what we say but how we say it. The first phrase means rejection — the other means honesty and intention, much better for your child to hear.

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3. Why can’t you be more like ... ?

Were you compared to one of your siblings as a child? Did your parents refer to the behavior of one of your friends as the ideal?

How did that feel? Not very good I am guessing. It might even be part of the reason you are the way you are today.

Never, ever compare your child to another child. That will only result in them feeling bad about themselves. It might even have the opposite effect and have them dig in and display more of the behavior that you don’t see as positive.

Instead of saying "Why can’t you be more like your sister and do your homework without me asking," say "How can we figure out a way for you to do your homework without me asking,”

The first only makes your child feel less than others. The second involves them working through an issue with you in an empowering way.

4. I knew you couldn’t do it

I heard this one a lot from my mom when I was growing up.

When I didn’t get something accomplished that I had hoped to accomplish, she always told me that she wasn’t surprised. That I never got anything done that I set out to do.

To be fair, this was mostly true but hearing that from my mom didn’t feel good. I was hard enough on myself about it.

What I wish she had said instead of "I knew you couldn’t do it,” was “That is too bad. I know that you can do it! What can I do to help you get it done next time?”

Knowing that she believed in me might have helped me be more successful in following through with what I needed to do.

5. They're just jealous of you

On the flip side comparing their child to someone else or telling them that they don’t believe in them is telling a child that they are better than everyone else.

In this modern world, many parents will do whatever they need to do to maintain their child’s self-esteem. That includes telling them that they are perfect in the belief that doing so will lead to their child’s being a success in the world.

Unfortunately, telling your child that they are better than everyone else will do one of two things.

If they believe you, then they won’t apply themselves because they think that they don’t need to. OR, if they don’t believe you because they know that it’s not true, it will only make them not trust you.

So, instead of saying that your kid is better than everyone else, praise them when they truly do excel and support them when they are struggling. That is the best way you can help maintain your child’s self-esteem.

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6. You are my favorite

Once again, comparing your child to another child is not a healthy thing to do, for multiple reasons.

If you tell your child that you are their favorite, it might give them license to do whatever they want to do, believing that there will be no repercussions.

They might tell their siblings what you said, only hurting them and setting them up to compete with each other for your affection.

They might be doubly hurt if you are having a bad day and are crabby, believing that your crabbiness is about them and that they have lost status in your heart.

Instead of saying "You are my favorite," say "You are incredible and I am so happy that you are my child.”

7. Don't be stupid

When I was younger, this was a phrase that I heard quite a bit.

Back in the day, parents didn’t work so hard to maintain our self-esteem and, as a result, they could say things that were very mean.

My parents, my mom in particular, often told me I was stupid when I did something incorrectly.

She belittled my ability to have the capacity to do something right which led me to believe that I wasn’t capable of doing anything right because I didn’t have the mental capacity to do so.

As a result, I grew up not believing that I was smart enough to be a successful person in the world and I stopped reaching for things that I didn’t believe that I could achieve.

Instead of saying “You are stupid,” talk to your child about how they might do things differently in the future and tell them that you believe that they can get things done.

8. If you could just try harder...

Imagine if you put your all into a project at work, a project that involved skills that you struggled with, and your boss wasn’t happy with how it turned out and he said "If you could just try harder.” How would that make you feel? Frustrated because you really did give it your all? Judged because your boss had no idea just how hard you had worked?

So it would be with your child. If they struggle to do something, you telling them that they weren’t trying hard enough will only frustrate them. They would think that you didn’t see them as they are, working hard to get something done and that you didn’t believe that they could.

Instead of ‘'If you could just try harder," talk to your child about what they are struggling with and make a plan together about how you can support them to achieve what they want to achieve.

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9. What is wrong with you?

Again, imagine if you did something that someone wasn’t happy with and they asked you what was wrong with you, how would that feel?

If you knew that you had made a mistake or not achieved a goal or were mean to your sister, would having someone tell you that your personality was deficient help you change your behavior?

Or would someone asking you what was wrong with you motivate you to do things differently?

Instead of saying "What is wrong with you?" talk to your child about why they did what they did. Help them see that what they did wasn’t a good idea but don’t attack who they are as a person. Don’t tell them that they are flawed.

Encourage them to be the best person that they can be so that they can know that they can do things differently should they choose to do so.

10. Any phrase with ‘always'

The world "always" is so absolute.

You are always so stubborn. You are always so difficult. You always say mean things. You always don’t do the thing that you said you would do.

And, almost without exception, we never do things "always." We are sometimes flexible around someone else’s opinion. We often go along with what the crowd wants to do, even if we don’t want to. We praise people. We do get things done.

When a child is told over and over that they "always" do something, they might start to believe that that is in fact true. Because they are always doing something, they are incapable of doing things any differently. As a result, they grow up believing that they are flawed in some way, often bringing that flaw into their adult lives.

Instead of saying "You are always …” point out to your child what they are doing at the moment. Tell them they are being stubborn or difficult or mean in that particular instance but don’t generalize their behavior. Don’t make them think that how they are in that moment is a personality flaw, something that they should be ashamed of.

After all, we want them to believe that they can be good and kind and helpful, even if they aren’t that way at the moment.

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Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be in this crazy world.