Three Things To Never Say To Your Children

Do you remember Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich? The Secret’s Law of Attraction? Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar? In fact every authority on achieving life goals will tell you that your thoughts and your words are absolutely crucial in accomplishing anything.

Similarly, the words we give to our children can have a dramatic impact on their lives. And some should be avoided at all costs…

Words Create World

I once attended a life coaching course where they summed it up like this: “Words create World”.

I think this is very true. And more than anyone else, the people we create the world for with our words are our children. So let’s be sure we create a good world.

One Negative Statement Cancels 10-20 Positive Ones

Negative words are like daggers – they can pierce the heart and leave scars that may last a lifetime. In fact, it has been said that one negative comment requires somewhere between 10 to 20 positive ones on the same subject, just to even out the negative one in a person’s mind.

Three Things You Do Not Want To Say

Here are the three statements that can quickly kill off your child’s spirits and stunt their ability to do well at anything, certainly including mastering math.

1. You are stupid.

If your child believes this, there is no way that school and learning will ever be fun or easy. If another adult person told you that you are stupid, how would you feel? The same thing, only worse, goes for your child. Your child looks up to you – what you say goes, so if you say those words, it must be true.

So instead of “You are stupid” you might say “That sure didn’t work”. If you can’t help it, and your child really did something stupid, make sure you comment on the specific event, not on the person. So the most extreme thing to say might be “That was stupid”. I hope you can see the difference. “That was stupid” leaves your child’s intelligence intact. “You are stupid” doesn’t.

2. You got that wrong, again? You are hopeless!

Do you remember what it was like to learn riding a bike? It seems quite daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite easy. Sometimes, we forget how daunting certain skills appear to children, because we mastered them a long time ago. Learning new skills takes time, practice and patience.

Similarly, making mistakes is a very powerful and effective way to learn. But only if your child does not associate making a mistake with being hopeless or with punishment.

The proper substitute to this statement is: “Ok, that’s useful, because now you’ve learnt how not to do it. Would you like to try again?” Can you imagine how different that will feel if your child hears such words?

3. I don’t believe you.

Trust is the ultimate empowerment for any person. If you, the parent, consistently withhold your trust from your child, the consequences are severe. Listen to what your kids have to say – do not dismiss them. Giving your child your full confidence is a key element in raising a confident, reliable person.

Conversely, if you don’t have faith in your child, your child will learn to not have faith in him or herself, either. And the result will be someone who is ultimately irresponsible.

The more negative words you say to your child, the more likely he or she is to succumb to them. But if you encourage positivity and words of assurance and comfort, you give your child every chance to be a positive, confident person – he or she will be so much more likely to excel at school, sports, arts or indeed whatever they choose to do.

Ultimately your words are vital to help your child create an amazing life.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any statements you avoid saying in your family?

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14 Responses to “Three Things To Never Say To Your Children”

  • Jim says:

    I think this is a thoughtful article, but somewhat overreactive. My kids know I love them, after all, I’m their father. I don’t think that handling them softly, softly will prepare them for life, either.

    • thomas says:

      Thank you for your reply, Jim! Of course your children know you love them. But have you noticed how kids tend to want to show you things they have done? They crave for your attention and your acknowledgement. It nourishes their soul every time you tell them positive things. A positive self-image prepares them to handle the toughest challenges later on. Try the 10-20 rule (10-20 positive to 1 negative) – it really works!

  • Jen says:

    Really Jim? Kids love their parents because they are their parents. They want their parents to love them. But, how do they know we love them unless we tell and show them? Do your kids really KNOW you love them? Or do you just assume they know?

    Just wondering.

  • Bea says:

    Thomas, I am not a blogging interacter at all, but I think your observations on this topic are spot on. Words are like weapons and can leave a lot of damage, whether you maybe just kidding, or out of control, or perhaps just self centered. There’s a saying, “The devil knows more because he is old–not because he is the devil,” and I think this pertains to us as caretakers/parents of children because we tend to think kids ought to know better, when they fail or make a mistake. So we condescend and yell and react. Maybe we do this because we can’t stand to see them making a bad choice. It is embarrassing, isn’t it? But we should not lose our self control on our kids and think they can handle it. You are not instilling a healthy value in them by berating them or belittling them. Even if it is just a quick one-liner.
    I honestly expect a great deal from a mature person these days, -we should act like we know more about integrity, civility, true respect for self worth, and appreciate each others natural gifts. It ‘s a start, isn’t it?

    • thomas says:

      Thank you very much Bea! I agree with you. We should all hold ourselves to the same high standards and strive for the very best we can be, yet allow one another to be human. Who am I to berate or belittle others? I myself don’t always know the right thing to say or do. I still burn a toast or cut my finger instead of the onion occasionally. The important thing is to aim to do your very best every time, and also to be big enough to admit your mistakes. In fact, that second part gives a lot of freedom to children and it is amazing how encouraging they are when my cooked dinner is less than spectacular 🙂

  • Isabelle says:

    We have a Family Code, about what we say in public, particularly regarding anything personally embarrassing or humiliating about family members. For instance, I would not tell stories on my kids about them wetting the bed. They all know not to gossip or tell their friends delicate things about their siblings. If it would make you feel bad, then don’t tell it about someone else. This keeps us accountable and empathetic as a family.

  • Angela says:

    What do you do if your child lies so much that you can’t trust her?

    • thomas says:

      Dear Angela, this is of course very tough. You cannot pretend to trust someone if deep down you feel they’re compulsive liars. And there are children who lie a lot. The poison to avoid are statements like “you always lie” or “you never tell the truth”. That gives nobody a chance. And there always is a chance.
      Here’s what I would do: I would look out for ANYTHING where my child is truthful/responsible and immediately acknowledge him/her for that. In other words, I would try to get 10-20 “thank you for being truthful/trustworthy” before I have to say even one “hmm, I think what you just said may not be true”. You (and your child) may find they are more reliable and trustworthy than they ever knew.

  • shanti says:

    Thanks for this last post in particular…I enjoyed reading the whole thread, but as always feel guilty reading about mistakes I really do know better than to make…but still make!

    This last exchange between Angela and Thomas has really helped me. I have a huge problem with my youngest son, and it has made our whole lives toxic, ruined our relationship and caused him to be mistrusted within his own peer group. This of course is making it so hard for him to maintain friendships.

    In the last two weeks, he has made a real effort to be honest, for the smallest things to the ones that are really difficult/embarrassing/scary to face up about…and the best I have done in return is to NOT go crazy angry when he has done something he knows he shouldn’t do, to prove to him it is better to be honest as you will suffer less than if you lie and are caught out.

    I now realise this is hardly very encouraging!! He needs big rewards for his own, self initiated attempts at changing his own character…at least as big as the punishments he has received for being dishonest. So thank you Angela and Thomas.

    I am now going to set up a half hour of ‘us’ time to build Lego or play a game together (my kids seem to favour time with me over food treats or bought toys for rewards, and my time is my most precious resource aside from my kids, so I figure this will be a good reward, and cement the idea that I am much happier in his company when he is honest…might go a little way toward mending our relationship, too!) and actually carry it out…I tend to say “we will play Lego” or “If you do that right, I will play chess with you” and then never find the time…isn’t that like lying too???

    Also, give him some hugs and extra encouragement for those truths he is telling.

    I hate star charts and commendations that seem sterile, false and condescending, but my son is a visual and interactive learner, so I will also make some little reward ‘treasures’ or tokens to randomly pick out of a bag or basket, each time he is honest. On them I will write things he loves to do, like “go climb trees for 15 mins” (we home school so he likes taking these kind of breaks!) or “get a hug from Mummy” or “play Chess Master for 15 mins” or something along those lines.

    What do you think, guys, I am interested in your feedback, as I really feel that my son is at a crossroad, having made the decision himself to try to be more honest, and I really want to help him and to get it right.

    I see him struggling internally when he knows he has done the wrong thing, and it’s so great when he does the right thing and owns up, but for some reason I am worried that if I focus too much on the fact he told the truth, and get all mushy about it, then it’s as if he gets a free ride to do any old thing, right or wrong, as long as he owns up to it and apologises.

    He has a younger sister who takes her cues from him, too, and I don’t want her to be dishonest (she is only 6 so the lying concept is only just sneaking in and sadly she seems to make use of the fact he gets blamed for most things as he IS usually responsible for it, and that no-one believes him anyway), but I also don’t want her to think it’s unfair that he ‘gets away’ with doing bad things or breaking the rules just because he suddenly tells the truth about it!

    Sigh, it’s a huge quandary, but I really want to help him with this!

  • thomas says:

    Dear Shanti,
    Thank you so much for your reply! I think what you’re doing is very caring and thoughtful. I can really feel the pain and how you so want the very best for your children!

    I tried a reward system for a while with our kids. It worked really well initially, bringing a lot of focus on the positive behavior we wanted to encourage. But after a while it got very tiring – I had to constantly be alert and judge and assess if behavior needed to be rewarded or not.

    And I realized that I wanted my kids to do the right things because they were the right things to do, and NOT because they’d get a reward from me.

    Research actually shows that direct rewards (e.g. money, presents or privileges) tend to have a negative impact on the enjoyment kids (and adults!) feel when doing the task, even when it’s one they’d normally enjoy. Here’s a link that mentions one such study by Mark Lepper from Stanford University:

    Instead I like to reward by praising or occasionally giving a surprise treat.

    We spend a lot of time at home talking about life and happiness. And I asked my kids if it feels better to lie (uneasy/guilt) or to tell the truth (relief/free). I assert that it is not possible to lie and feel happy at the same time. (My kids know this conversation well.)

    How can we be free if we’re hiding something?

    I believe that’s why the saying goes “the truth will set you free”. It has taken me more than 30 years to get the full impact of this simple saying. I find life is so much easier when I don’t try and hide my own imperfections (and allow others to have theirs).

    The other thing I found to work really well is to apply the same standards to everyone, including myself. So I apologize to my kids as freely as I would like them to apologize to me. And I forgive them as freely as I would like to be forgiven 🙂

    Hope this helps. All the very best to you and your family!

  • debbie says:

    my husband always says if u dont like it leave my 14yr did how can i change it

    • thomas says:

      Dear Debbie, I am not sure if I understand correctly – but let me say this: IF your husband says to the children “if you don’t like it leave”, and your 14 year old has left (I hope I got that wrong!) – let your 14 year old know that he or she will always be loved and welcome in your life. I am fortunate to have an amazing relationship with my kids, but I’m no psychologist or family counsellor. So I’d recommend you (and ideally get your husband to go with you) speak to a professional about this. I strongly believe most things can be worked out through honest communication and allowing love to flow. Sometimes it’s really helpful to have a trained third party involved. This sounds like one of those times. in the end we all love our children, and our children love us – we may be misguided, we may feel hurt, but fundamentally it’s still true.

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