Speaking gently: 20 things you should never say to your children


As children grow up, they become increasingly impressionable and receptive. What we expose them to is most likely what they will carry with them, be it for a few months or even a lifetime, so it's important to always be conscious of what we say to our children to ensure that they are never wounded by our words.

How we speak to our children influences the way they view the world and themselves. So it makes sense that we should speak to them in a healthy manner to help them grow, and to make them feel supported and loved.

Here are some of the things that we should never say to our children:

1. “Stop crying, you’ll be fine”

Telling children to stop crying makes them feel like they are wrong for showing emotion. As much as it may be frustrating for parents, it doesn’t help to demonise your child for doing something that children do naturally. You are essentially invalidating their feelings.

Instead, try saying: "What’s the matter? Why are you crying?" – and not in a hostile manner.

Your child will then be more inclined to communicate her feelings and tell you the problem beforehand in future.

2. “I do everything for you”

As much as it is true that parents do a lot for their children, constantly reminding them of it can make them feel like a burden rather than love. It’s usually said to discipline a child but is a rather hostile thing to say.

Instead, try saying: “We do things for you because we love you so please do [  ] for me.”

Is there anything you feel should never be said to children? Let us know by emailing us at chatback@Parent24.com and we could publish your comments on our site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

3. “You did well but you could do better”

Firstly, any compliment that’s followed by “but” should be avoided as it takes away the meaning of the compliment itself. Celebrating small victories is a way to motivate children to constantly do well. Using the word “but” will make them feel like they have not really made you proud and didn't do enough, which will certainly do more harm than good.

Instead, try saying: "You did well and I am proud of you. I bet you’re going to keep getting better and better!"

4. “Don’t eat that or else you’re going to get fat”

This is a major no-no. It teaches children to be overly conscious of their bodies and will make them question their peers for eating certain things. Body image is an extremely sensitive and personal thing and to create this impression from such a vulnerable age is damaging.

Instead, try saying: "I don’t think it would be a good idea to eat that because it’s not very good for your health."

5. “It’s not that big of a deal" or "Stop being such a baby”

This is the one of the worst things you could possibly tell your child when they are upset. It invalidates their feelings and makes them reluctant to openly talk to you. Children should feel comfortable with communicating their feelings and telling them “it’s not that big of a deal” will make them question themselves.

Instead, try saying: “Tell me how you feel and why you’re feeling this way.”

Saying this will help you understand your child and let them know that you’re there if they need to talk.

6. “Do I have to tell you this 100 times?”

This one is a classic. By telling your children this, you’re essentially nagging about how much you need to nag, which clearly isn’t getting through to them.

Instead, try saying: “I’ve told you this before, but could you please…”

This way, it will make children feel like they should comply and not make you repeat yourself to begin with.

7. “Big girls/boys don’t do that”

A very common example of this is “big girls/ boys don’t cry” usually followed by “crying is only for babies”. Whether it is crying, or anything else for that matter, let children be children. If there is something you are unhappy about, never use their age as an excuse.

Instead, try saying: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to do [ ] because [ ].”

8. “That’s only for boys/girls”

Limiting boys and girls to what they can and cannot do based on their sex tells them that there are certain ways that boys should behave and certain ways that girls should behave and if they don’t comply, it is wrong. It puts children in boxes and they grow up believing in toxic societal gender roles.

Instead, try saying: Nothing at all. 

9. “I’m disappointed in you”

As much as disappointment is a very valid feeling, this word alone can be so scarring. Many people genuinely grow up believing they are a disappointment to their families because they are mindlessly told this throughout their lifetimes. 

Instead try saying: “I’m not happy with your actions. Please avoid doing [    ] in future.”

10. “You'd better do what I say or else”

Without a doubt, this sounds more like a threat than anything else. Using fear to discipline children is unhealthy and usually backfires. Simply explain why you’d like something done and they’ll be more likely to comply.

Instead, try saying: “Please do [ ] because [ ].”

11. “Because I said so" or “Because I’m an adult and you’re a child”

They my-way-or-the-highway approach may have been one used for a very long time but that does not make it the right way to discipline children. It also makes children feel like their opinions aren’t valid simply because they are young.

Instead, try: Explaining why you feel a certain way about something.

12. “You live under my roof so you follow my rules”

Another thing a lot of parents love to say. Very similar to “this is my house; you’re just living in it.” Both of these statements make your child feel unwelcome in their own homes and make them feel borderline burdensome.

Instead, try saying: “You know the household rules. Please stick to them.”

13. “That’s how I was raised”

Although we learn a lot about parenting based on how we were raised, it’s very closed-minded to reject a child’s request or condemn their actions by saying “that’s how I was raised”. Instead, explain to your child why you feel a certain way rather than being quick to shut them down with that line. You can use it as an example, but it should not be your main argument.

Instead, try saying: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to do [  ]. Even my parents used to tell me that [  ] because [  ].”

14. “You’re just like your mother/father!”

Using this line on your child not only lets them know that what they’re doing is wrong, but makes them feel that they inherited it from one of their parents and that they shouldn’t be accountable for their actions. It also lets your child know about the grievances you have with their other parent which can result in them feeling somewhat divided.

Instead, try saying: “I’m not happy with [   ] because [   ].”

15. “We can’t afford that”

Making children aware of financial difficulties from a young age can instill a sense of fear in them more than anything else.

Instead, try saying: “I can’t buy you [  ] because we’re saving our money for more important things.”

16. “I told you so”

This is the last thing anyone wants to hear when something goes wrong. Yes, you may have been correct in what you warned your child about but comforting them instead of throwing it in their face will make them feel more open to talk to you in future.

Instead, try saying: “I’m sorry to hear about [ ] ... let this be a lesson.”

17. “I wish you were more like [ ]” 

A child's self-esteem can really take a knock when they are told this. Whether they are compared to a sibling or anyone else for that matter, it makes them feel like they are not enough.

Instead, try: Not comparing your child to others to persuade them to do something.

18. “I smoked/drank/did drugs when I was your age” 

Telling your children about certain experiences is not always the best thing to do as they may think they will be excused from the consequences if they do it themselves. The “but you said you [ ] when you were my age” will always come back to bite you.

Instead, try: Talking to your children about the consequences of smoking, drinking, or doing drugs. 

19. “It’s just a little white lie”

Once children become familiar with the term “little white lie” they think it is okay to do it all the time.

Instead, try explaining when it’s okay to use white lies to be polite and not hurt someone’s feelings, before the lines between lies and little white lies become blurred for them.

20. “You’re too young to think about this”

Shutting down a child’s curiosity will make them less likely to ask you things in future and they’ll seek answers from other sources that may not be as trustworthy.

Instead try saying: “I’m not ready to discuss this with you now but one day we’ll definitely talk about it."

Alternatively, (if you’re ready and feel that they’re old enough), just answer their questions.

Is there anything you feel should never be said to children? Or do you feel something on this list is okay to say to children? Let us know by emailing us at chatback@Parent24.com and we could publish your comments on our site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

Read More:

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What are your thoughts on the possibility of having permanent Stage 2 or 3 load shedding?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I'll take that over constant schedule changes
13% - 1498 votes
Why are we normalising Eskom’s mess?
72% - 8215 votes
I've already found alternative ways of powering my home/business
15% - 1709 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.