There is a moment in parenthood when, in the midst of trying to curb some of your children’s most enthusiastic destructive instincts, you catch yourself saying something your parents used to tell you. It’s a chilling look in the mirror, and often you’ll find yourself repeating sentences you swore you’d never stoop to. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s perfectly natural.

Cultural and regional values had a great influence on how our parents were raised and then, in turn, guided us through our childhood.  Most of these differences stem from religious, ethnic or racial beliefs; some suggest better ways of living, others demand the suppression of feelings and degradation of life quality. Either way, these expressions and words were handed down through generations, and they powerfully influence the way we nurture and educate our own children, too.

Current research now shows that many positive phrases we were encouraged to use with our children, although at first seem harmless and effective, actually act as behavior deterrents.With a little forethought, it’s easy to replace those statements with some alternatives that will actually boost self esteem and strengthen their emotional connection and intrinsic motivation. Let’s just see some of those ‘damaging’ everyday phrases, and how to keep from using them every day.

Avoid making promises you can’t keep

“I promise”: Life is not predictable and making a promise to someone, is a huge responsibility, especially when it comes to your children. Try not to promise anything under any circumstance and instead be very honest about your intentions. It is better to tell your child: ‘I understand you want to go to the playground tomorrow and I will try my best to make it happen. However, it could rain tomorrow or something urgent comes up and we won’t be able to go’, rather than promise them that you will definitely go and then having to break it.

At any age rewards are less effective than intrinsic motivation for promoting effective learning and trust is crucial in forming that and encouraging emotional stability. By being honest with your children will also teach them  to be honest with others and when you do try your best but are unable to deliver a promise, then it is better to accept responsibility for that failure and own up to it.

‘I promise’ could also be used positively such as: ‘I promise I will never hit you’, ‘I promise I will never say ‘because i said so’’, ‘I promise I’ll try my best to be  a good listener’…etc.

[quote_box_right]Always remember that children learn by mimicking behavior and not by verbal warnings and punishment. So, be an example of honesty![/quote_box_right]

“Because I said so!”: this is likely the most annoying and disrespectful phrase you can say to your child. It clearly states that there is only one boss and that is you. It gives the impression that whatever your child might feel or think simply does not matter.You certainly do not wish for your child to fear you or even loathe you. Although certain type of answers come easily to parents and are more convenient, the same doesn’t apply to children.

If you are feeling frustrated after having to to be asked ‘why’ all day long, choose a less child – damaging approach rather than reply with: ‘I said so, that’s why’.

‘This phrase puts all the control in your hands, and dismisses your child’s growing sense of autonomy and ability to figure things out. It also leaves out a potential teaching moment’, says Jenn Berman, Ph.D. and author of ‘The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids’

“Eat all your food”: Most of our parents were raised in difficult economic times; having food on their  plates was one of the most basic needs and a father’s most important responsibility. Our parents have passed this on to us and many generations went through the process of ‘force’ feeding. Numerous research, nowadays, shows that when forcing your children to eat things they don’t like has exactly the opposite effect and that also goes for when we ban them from eating certain types of ‘bad’ food.

By forcing children to finish everything on their plates, we do more harm than good; we actually diminish their ability to understand when they are truly hungry and when they are full enough to stop.

On the other hand, remember to also avoid saying things like: ‘are you sure you need that second piece of chocolate?’ Try to stay away from talk that might foster a negative body image. Food shouldn’t be turned into a power issue, so try to avoid demeaning comments and labels.

[pull_quote_center]“Language is the primary delivery system for the emotional abuse of children. Eliminate abusive Parent Talk by monitoring your manner of speaking.”[/pull_quote_center]                                                                                                                                           – Chick Moorman

“I told you so”: Despite having told your son to stop playing video games all day and study for his exam he didn’t listen to you and indeed he did badly at school. By saying: ‘i told you so’, simply tells your child that you are always right and that, by contrast, he is always wrong. Alternatively, identify specific positive outcomes that could come up when he follows through and patiently explain what are the consequences and the results of poorly made decisions

“You are so smart”: Even though that phrase sounds so beautiful and innocent, by telling your child he is always smart, you are setting very high standards that he will feel that he can’t follow up. In time your child will become hesitant  of trying out new challenging tasks in fear of failing to get the highest grades possible. It could also backfire when your child struggles to cope with school homework and you remind him that ‘he is so smart’!
Ideally, try to support him in every effort he makes and praise his persistent and every attempt to success rather than solely focusing on the result.

Support your children in anything they wish to do without comparing them to each other

“That’s not how you do it… let me” : You want your child to help you with a task such as cooking or doing the laundry and that is an excellent way of fun learning and bonding at the same time. However, he or she didn’t do it exactly the way you wanted them to so you can’t resist the urge to take over and show them how it is properly done. Not only your child won’t be wanting to try anything you ask them again but also he or she won’t learn anything this way. By showing your disappointment at the task you set for them to do, your children are likely to feel useless and incapable.

Try a different method instead, one that shows less aggravation and disapproval and promotes active learning and interaction in a collaborative and not in a dismissive way.  You could tell your child: ‘Do you want me to show you a fun and easy way to fold your clothes that also my mum taught me?’

[quote_box_right]Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.[/quote_box_right]

“Your brother/sister wouldn’t do that!”: Have you ever been compared with your brother or with your sister when you were little? If so, you must surely remember how bad that made you feel, right? Sibling rivalry is a natural phenomenon and you comparing your children with each other will only add fuel to this natural but also aggravated process. Also, phrases such as: ‘the good one’, ‘the athlete one’, ‘the lazy one’, will make the other child feel incompetent and unwilling to try the sport or activity that their brother/sister is good at. Instead, try to embolden any hobby or pursuit they wish to follow and help them develop in their own areas of interest.

Being a parent is indeed challenging, but how many of you have thought that they will never become like their own parents in repeating some bad behavior and yet we find ourselves sound so much like them? Are you sure that this is something you want? Children grow up before you know it – use the valuable time you have left to become better at something you are already very good and ditch the offensive language. You will see amazing results in your children’s attitude and well being that will last for ever.

Psychologist, world citizen, mother - Effie is one half of the founding pair. She can bring to life any party with either a smile, or a strong opinion. If like us you can't get enough of Effie, visit her blog at

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