When we’re frustrated as parents, hurtful words can easily come out of our mouths. But these are 7 things parents should never say to their child.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Words are alive. Cut them and they bleed.” Anyone with experience on the recess playground knows exactly what he meant by that. Words hurt. There’s no doubt about it. They possess the power to discourage, depress, and destroy.
I don’t think anyone would argue that our words need to be used carefully, but how does this apply to parenthood?
I stumbled across an article that really made me wonder: Yelling At Kids Could Be Just As Harmful As Physical Discipline. After reading, I must confess I think they have a good point. Careless words bellowed at our kids can certainly be harmful. There really are some things that parents should never say to their child.
I grew up with a mom who yelled at me, though not all the time or anything. You might have grown up with that as well. But if you’ve been a parent for very long, you know that it can be ever so frustrating when that little person doesn’t do what you want them to do. I wouldn’t say that my mom’s yelling was abusive, caused me to be depressed, or made me act out more as the study suggests. But I do agree with two principles here.
First, I’ve been a parent long enough to know that yelling at my kids rarely causes them to truly respond the way I want them to respond. Oh sure, they may actually get up and do whatever I asked them to do, but their attitude still stinks and they are likely to repeat the same behavior until I yell at them again. Hardly the life-long character training I’m hoping for.
Second, sticks and stones can break your bones and if the words I am yelling ATTACK my children then I am probably harming them. To be clear, I’m not talking about the kind of yelling where the little tyke won’t stop kicking your seat and you turn around and bellow, “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!” I mean the kind of yelling that says, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why can’t you ever do anything right?”
As parents, we must think AS MUCH about the message we are sending as the actual words we utter. We must consider the warning of the Bible. With every word uttered, we speak either life or death (Proverbs 18:21). There’s no in between. With every word, we are either encouraging our children in the admonition of the Lord or we are tearing them down. With every word, we are teaching a lesson. The question is…what are we REALLY saying?
7 Things Parents Should Never Say to their Child
1. What were you thinking?
This phrase attacks identity. What we’re actually saying beneath these words is, “Why are you so stupid? You are always messing things up.” Kids are kids. Kids are human. We as humans make mistakes. We think the wrong thing and do the wrong thing sometimes. And when we do, the last thing we need are words that spew shame.
Instead, mistakes or sinful choices are opportunities we as parents have to teach our kids a better way.
2. How many times have I told you?
This phrase actually says, “Can’t you seriously get this right? Why can’t you remember every single thing I tell you?” The answer to that first question is no. Read the Old Testament. We can’t get it right. If we could, there would be no need for Jesus.
And the answer to the second question is because we’re human. One word God repeats over and over and over in the Bible is “remember.” Remember. Remember. Because we as humans continually forget.
3. Why can’t you be like your brother?
This phrase says, “You are not good enough the way God made you. I want you to be someone else.” How devastating this is to a child. God designed each of us wonderfully. Yes, we all have flaws. Yes, we all have weaknesses. But every weakness is an opportunity to depend on the strength and grace of God.
Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see the unique beauty of each of your children.
4. She is just acting that way because she’s tired.
This phrase actually says, “I’m okay with my child acting this way. In fact, when I’m tired I often lie on the floor and throw a fit, too. And of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to make excuses for disrespectful or lazy behavior.”
Sure, being tired does make us vulnerable to our flesh. But it isn’t an excuse for sinful behavior. When we see our kids vulnerable due to exhaustion, we still need to implement consequences in love while also addressing the underlying issue. It’s time for a nap, little one.
5. Clean up your room, ok?
By using that word “ok” we’re actually saying, “If it’s ok with you, will you obey this command I have given you?” Yes, we need to tell our kids to clean their room. But adding “ok” to the end of any request leaves it open to our kids’ choice to obey.
Giving clear and consistent instructions, remembering that we’re the parent and they’re the child, teaches the important lesson of obedience to authority.
6. Do I have to count to three?
This phrase actually says, “I don’t require you to obey me all the time, just when I get mad enough to count. Oh, and feel free to come when I get to three instead of when I ask.” I teach my kids that delayed obedience is disobedience.
Giving them time to obey doesn’t teach them the importance of immediate obedience. And if they are about to walk in front of a car, then we want them to know the extreme importance of immediate obedience when we shout, “STOP!”
7. That’s just the way he/she is.
This phrase says, “Inappropriate behavior is acceptable if it’s a regular habit. After all, there are some things that we cannot overcome.” Need I point out here that God says the exact opposite…with Him ALL things are possible (Matt. 19:26)?!
I mentioned this above, but all of us have weaknesses. We all have sinful tendencies. But those sinful bents are opportunities for them to learn to depend on the strength of the Lord, not a license to sin.
8. We messed him/her up and it’s too late to change it.
This actually declares, “God isn’t big enough to cover our mistakes.” Yes, I threw in an extra one for good measure. I know you probably don’t say this to your kids, but it’s ever so tempting to think thoughts like that after reading a challenging post. It’s absolutely not true.
God is able to redeem every broken thing when it’s put into His hands.
So what should you do if you have a habit of saying these types of things to your children?
- Repent and ask God to help you speak life into your family. He will!
- Tell your children when you mess up and say the wrong thing, asking them for forgiveness. Never be too proud to do what is right!
- Look for creative consequences for kids that you can use instead of getting angry.
- Take each day one step at a time. We are a work in progress and no one gets it right all the time. Rest in the grace of God while striving to honor Him. He looks at the HEART (1 Sam.16:7)! If you are striving daily to make changes, God sees that effort, not your mistakes!
- Consider doing a Bible study that will help remind you and your kids the importance and power of words.
Your turn—> Can you think of other things parents should never say to their child? Share them with us so that we can all grow and learn from each other!
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.