When you’re in the middle of a clean-up-the-playroom lecture or asking your teenager for the hundredth time to silence her phone at the dinner table, it’s easy to think our kids just don’t listen to us. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth, say experts. The words we choose—whether consciously or not—can have a big impact on how our children navigate the world and the people they become. That’s why we tapped family psychologists and counselors for the phrases they recommend avoiding on our quest to raise happy and well-adjusted humans. Here, four things to ban from your lexicon, stat.
4 Phrases Child Therapists Want Us to Stop Saying to Our Kids
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1. “You aced that test—you’re so smart!”
Compliment effort, not results, says Rachel Lugo, a licensed professional counselor at The Watson Institute in Pittsburgh. “It’s natural for kids to see outcomes without connecting the dots to the processes that brought them about. As parents, we play a key role in showing our children that their actions matter and their choices today affect what will happen tomorrow.” It’s important for their future self-worth, she adds, to know that you value them even when they’re not “winning”. For example, your daughter may be a math whizz this year, but she may struggle next year when she takes on algebra. By focusing so acutely on her math success now, Lugo maintains, you may inadvertently make her feel crummy down the road. Instead, Lugo recommends saying something like, “I’m proud of you for working so hard.” By complimenting traits or efforts, you teach that while she can’t control her circumstances, she can control her actions.
2. “Did you have a good day?”
If you're like most parents, then some variant of, “Hi sweetie, did you have a good day at school?” is one of the first things that comes out of your mouth each evening. But according to licensed professional counselor Kristin Wilson at Newport Academy, this seemingly innocent question could actually be problematic. “When you ask your child if things are fine or good, you’re giving them the message that you want everything to be OK,” says Wilson. “Kids don’t want to disappoint or disturb their parents, so they’re more likely to say 'sure' or just nod in response and let you believe that everything’s fine—even if it isn’t.” And as any parent knows, the dreaded ‘How was your day?’ typically yields a similar response. In order to figure out how your child is really feeling, Wilson suggests asking specific yet open-ended questions like, ‘What did you do at choice time?’ or ‘How did that chemistry test go today?’ The goal is to let your kids know that you’re open to anything they have to say, whether positive or not. This way, they’re more likely to share what’s going on in their lives.
3. “Deal with it!”
Your kid’s screen time is done for the day and he’s whining about it (even though he knew it was coming). Instead of cutting off his complaining with a quick ‘Too bad, deal with it,’ try saying the phrase ‘I hear you.’ “Kids crave validation,” Lugo tells us. “One of the challenges of parenthood is to acknowledge their emotions without giving into their tantrums.” This can be especially trying with younger kids. Fortunately, there’s a four-step script from the parenting experts behind Big Little Feelings that can help tackle those little kid meltdowns.
Step 1: See them
“I can see that you really want to keep using your iPad.”
Step 2: OK the feeling
“It’s OK to feel mad that screen time is over.”
Step 3: Boundary
“We are all done playing with the iPad today. It’s time to put on your jammies.”
Step 4: Shift to the yes
“We can watch more shows on the iPad more tomorrow. What would you like to watch tomorrow?”
This way you’re supporting your child through their upset feelings by acknowledging them, while maintaining boundaries.
4. “I’m glad that’s over.”
We all want to raise kids that are resilient right? Well, in order to do that we have to value perseverance, says Lugo. “One of the paradoxes of parenthood is to protect children from harm while preparing them to handle adversity,” she explains. “When challenges inevitably come your child’s way, help them to have a broad perspective.” And as with most things, one of the biggest ways you can help your child develop perseverance is by modeling it. So, let’s say your kid receives a pretend kitchen that dings, lights up and suggests recipes for dinner (yep, these toys actually exist). And man, they are super excited. Or at least they were when they unwrapped their gift. After 45 minutes of assembly, they’re less enthused. When you finally mange to put the damn thing together, rather than brushing over how annoying the process was and how relieved you are to throw the boxes away, acknowledge the effort it took to get through it instead. How? Try saying something like, “that was hard, but worth it.” By doing so, your kid will see first-hand the value of working through obstacles.