5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child

Posted March 30, 2011 by

As parents, we all find ourselves saying things that we never thought we’d say. Here are five phrases I personally think we should avoid if at all possible:

1. “Because I said so!” Just ask yourself the following:  How does saying this build your relationship? Having a relationship means being real — and being relational. I think it’s important to be mature as parents and walk through issues with our kids — we’ll only earn trust and create safety for them by doing it. You have nothing to lose.

2. “Act your age!” or “You’re 10 years old, so act like it!” Consider this: don’t you think if kids could act their age, they would? They are clueless on how they ought to be acting, so it’s our job to not only tell them, but to show them, and to be a role model that inspires them. They will learn from us and by what we have to offer to help them through life.

3. “Shame on you!” This is a personal pet peeve. Creating shame for a child is devastating. It will block safety and trust. They have got to know that no matter what they do that you love them and are there for them. They need a space where they can be open with us, and share. Shaming is condemning, and it’s extremely unhealthy on so many levels.

4. “Shut up!” There are a million different words in our English vocabulary that we can use to get this point across. ‘Nough said.

5. “You should know better!” I get how this one might seem confusing, because a lot of times kids might in fact know better. But again, ask yourself, “How will this build our relationship?” We know that they are going to do things that they know they shouldn’t. But they don’t always really know the reason not to do it. We know why it’s not good for them, but they don’t. So instead of saying the obvious, why not take it as an opportunity to ask them why they did it, and share with them why it wasn’t the best choice. Again, it’s all about being relational: relating to and with our kids.


Gina Norma grew up in St.Paul MN, and enjoys art, reading, traveling, thrift shopping, picnics, volunteering and spending time with her 17-year-old. One day she hopes to go to Italy, attend college, and solve world hunger. Gina says, “To me, parenting is all about building relationships with our kids and walking along side them — not trying to control them or use shame.” You can read Gina’s blog at www.walkwithyourteen.blogspot.com.

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  1. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Danya”: Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. I can hear how concerned you are with your son’s behavior at school and with how the staff seems to be dealing with it. It can be so frustrating when your child is well behaved at home but acts out in other places. It sounds like you are very much involved with your children. You are correct that toddlers can be aggressive at times. Young children tend to have very low frustration tolerance and limited problem-solving skills. When they are faced with a frustrating situation, they can lash out aggressively in an attempt to deal with the frustration. Something to keep in mind is that most of the tools and techniques on the Empowering Parents website are designed for children who are 5 years or older. There are some techniques, such as walking away that may not be appropriate for a child your son’s age. For that reason, we would suggest talking with his pediatrician or another professional about the best way to address this behavior. We wish you and your family the best. Take care.

  2. Danya Report

    Am so glad that i came acrross ur website…truly its a blessing for all mom’s and parents. Iv got 3 kids….my older two r daughters and the youngest is a boy. His 2yrs and 9 months. His got delayed speech…up to now he had vocabulary of 25 words and few sentences….My problem is….He was never aggressive, but as of late he has become very aggressive at his play school….am having endless complaints. So much that the principle called me up last afternoon and told me to take my child out. This behaviour on happened when he moved up to Toddler group….His not like this at home. As far as his concerned on my observation, His just a typical toddler, playful,has tantrum occasionally, Loves his siblings…..I was very upset about how the principle of this pre school accused me of not paying attention to him and that he has a attention problem….I am a hands on mum…I pay loads of attention to him and my 2 elder ones as well….its very stressful for me too as i am only human. Can people be so mean and just brand my son as a naughty child….His class teacher says that the moment her back is turned, he does something to the kids like push them or pinch them. Sometimes kicks as well….I do not know what to do, I would appreciate very much if you could please advice me. Cause i love my little munch kin so much and do not want any teacher or child branding him and leaving him a side always….Here in Srilanka its very common.

  3. LARONE Report

    I have a 14 year who has been hostile towards me it seemed as if I had tried everything I knew to improve our relationship. Days at the spa, shopping at the mall. I just kept getting this hostile attitude at times. I really appreciate some of the advice and tools that I recieved to help me improve my relationship with my daughter. I love her dearly and I long for us to be close.

  4. Jarus Report

    My parents often made all 5 of those mistakes with me, from the earliest times I can remember. I wouldn’t mind never seeing them again.

    I’ll give you all some advice. Be mindful of how you treat your children and what you say to them, because they view you as God. If God condemns you, your life might as well be over. It’s the same for a child. They will end up despising you and silently disowning you for the rest of their lives.

  5. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “ckimm”: (continued) It’s also going to be beneficial to hold your son accountable when he acts out by not following rules or throwing things at his brother. There are a couple of ways you can address this behavior. For younger kids, behavior charts can be an effective way of holding them accountable and also giving them opportunities to make better choices. Here is a great article that explains how to use behavior charts and also has some behavior charts you can download and print off to use: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Lastly, it will be constructive to help your son develop better problem-solving skills. Even though it may seem as if his acting out behavior is occurring out of the blue, he’s actually trying to solve some problem with this behavior. For example, he may be tired or over stimulated at that time of the day. Most 5 year olds have a low frustration tolerance and he most likely doesn’t have the skills to deal with it appropriately. By sitting down and talking with him about other, more appropriate ways he can deal with what’s going on for him, you will be helping him to develop better coping skills. Here is an article that talks about how to problem solve with your son: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”. You may need to modify the problem solving conversation a little bit to account for your son’s age. I hope this has been helpful. We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. Take care.

  6. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “ckimm”: It’s frustrating to have a child act out for no apparent reason. It can be really difficult to remain calm in the face of that child’s outburst. There are a lot of articles on our site that could be helpful to you in your situation. First, I would commend you on recognizing the importance of being a calm parent. That isn’t something every parent recognizes. Of course, there are times when that is a lot easier said than done. Debbie Pincus has written many articles that focus on how to be a calm parent when your child is acting out. Here are a couple you may find useful: Calm Parenting: Anger Management in Children and Teens and Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child’s Behavior Make You Crazy.

  7. ckimm Report

    I guess I am at a loss of what to do anymore. I have a 5yr boy and a 9yr boy. Lately my 5yr old has been acting out towards me he doesn’t do this to anyone else like teachers grandparents or his Dad. It happens every evening he doesn’t follow rules and just acts out by throwing things hitting his brother cursing. I have been trying to keep calm but sometimes it just doesn’t happen I lose my cool and start to yell. I am at my wits end on what to do. Could you give me some advice or an article to read that could help me in my situation.
    Thank you

  8. sadmommy45 Report

    so what do you do when your husband verbally abuses your child calling her horrible names? Hold over her head, that he pays for college tuition but every time they so something wrong, yes after being told not to do it, and they do it anyway, but these to me are not horrific things being done. Torn between husband and children.

  9. EJ Report

    I agree with NOT using “shut up.”
    The rest of the items listed support a watered down discipline that includes having dinner time calm “discussions” with your kids is ineffective. Kids that are subject to ths tepid discipline from toddler to teen become “wussified.”
    When I joined the military the guys who had the type of parents who occasionally said “cause I said so” did very well. The ones with the hippy parents went home within 5 weeks. I was glad they were gone because they didnt know how to cope with intense authority figures and would refer to them as “mean” or “jerks.” funny enough, these intense authority figures were actually trying to weed out people who couldn’t cope with intense situations. They actually became mentors for life and were not at all like their intial impression.
    Let’s get back to raising kids who know when to listen, respect authority and be able to critically think in tough situations;”cope.”

  10. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Sasha S”: Thank you for asking such a thoughtful question. This can be a very frustrating behavior for most parents. We would suggest saying to the child “It’s not ok to talk to me that way. I don’t like it” and then walking away from the situation. Sometimes you may find yourself in a place where you’re not able to walk away. You can still disengage and not become involved in an argument. This isn’t always easy for parents to do in the moment. The article How to Walk Away from a Fight with Your Child: Why It’s Harder Than You Think discusses some great ways to do this effectively. I hope this answers your question. Good luck to you and your family as you address this challenging behavior. Take care.

  11. Sasha S Report

    Okay, when I was younger, my parents twenty four seven said that stuff to me and I know it’s actually 24/7, I like writing it though!
    Anyways, nowadays, I would never. But, WHAT IF YOUR CHILDREN SAY THIS TO YOU? then what? sorry, i just thot that the question should…er…stick out a bit? so u can see it and answer it, as well.

  12. Victoria Report

    Right on! Back in my day…long ago…I use to hear many of those redules and, shouts by my mother. I found out at age 50, I had been ADHAD alll my life! Ha!
    Too many of us are products of ignorant child rearing.Thanks for this educational blog ; may it go far and into the ears of those who hurt with their tongue

  13. dwill98216 Report

    thank you so much for the information i will try it as soon as i get home and have my child read this material out loud to me os we can get the problem out into the open and deal with his issues of resistence.

  14. Julia Report

    Dear readers,

    I think that there is one more item that needs to be added to this list:

    “If you do not (get XYZ grade, do XYZ chore…) then we will not love you anymore”
    “I If you do not (get XYZ grade, do XYZ chore…) then no boy/girl is ever going to love you/you will never be in a meaningful relationship/it is no wonder that you’ve never been on a date…”

    This is extremely harmful for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it teaches children that love is something that can be bought, which is not a healthy attitude. Also, it is a very hurtful thing to say to a child or an adolescent, who is still at a very impressionable age. Finally, this is the parent’s proverbial ace. It is what every child secretly fears – the withdrawal of love. Once you have played your ace, it’s gone. You can’t use it again (and have an effect) and you can never take it back. Your child can accept what you said and move on…and then what? You have just lost a significant part of your parental authority, because, really, what can you possibly say or do to a child after that that will have any effect at all?


  15. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Lee”: Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I can hear how much it hurts you when your grandchildren treat each other this way. Sibling issues can be some of the most frustrating ones to deal with. What’s going to be most effective in this situation is to try not to get pulled into what’s going on between the two of them. What James Lehman suggests in his article Siblings at War in Your Home (Declare a Ceasefire Now) is “as long as it’s not a bullying situation, don’t play referee.” Don’t try to determine who is right or wrong. Instead, hold them both accountable for taking part in the argument. When things have calmed down a little bit you can say something like “There’s no fighting or name calling in our house. When you can go for 2 hours without teasing or saying mean things to your brother/sister, then you can have your TV privilege back.” You can also problem solve with each of them ways they may be able interact more appropriately. For example, you could start the conversation by saying “I know you’re irritated by your brother sometimes. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to tease him and call him names. What do you think you could do differently the next time this happens?” The focus is on helping them develop better ways of interacting with each other. The one other suggestion we would make would be to ignore the under the breath comments. I understand how difficult this is to do. For most kids, this is an invitation to an argument. It’s important to choose your battles and it may be most effective to focus on the behavior that is most aggressive or disrespectful. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this issue. Take care.

  16. Lee Report

    My grandchildren, girl-10 and boy-14 grasp at every opportunity to dig at each other with the most mean and insensitive comments, intending to hurt. Each of them will create a situation to attack the other verbally. It is very skillful entrapment and sad to see enacted by children. They have progressed recently to being very sarcastic, often making comments under thier breath, intending to be heard, then claiming innocense when they are challenged. Is there any way to help this escalating negtive and harmful behaviour. It is painful to be the witness as well.

  17. Stevee Report

    Empowering Parents is truely the best parent “helper” that I have ever come across. Helping so very many parents .. and therefore children too. I am a great grandmother and made a lot of mistakes in rearing my kids . . how I wish I would have had this information then.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Thank you for your kind words. Helping parents (and empowering them with new skills) is what we’re all about. I love what James Lehman says about our role: “Parents aren’t the problem — they’re the solution.”
      And good for your for reading parenting articles as a great grandmother. I hope I’m still so open and willing to learn new things about parenting when my son’s kids have kids!

  18. RHofm50129 Report

    I disagree with all the things she said other than “shut up.” I said all those things to my children and they grew up to be capable, successful men, fathers and husbands. My mother and my mother-in-law said all those things, and ditto for me and my husband. In my opinion today’s parents are too wishy-washy. It is reflected in their children’s behavior.
    There is age inappropriate behavior, and I see no reason not to say so. There are times when all of us should feel ashamed of what we have done, and I see no reason not to say so. There are times when kids did know better, still did it, and should know it is unacceptable because they did know better. The point is that children are not the hot house plants that today’s parents think they are.

  19. Jennie in Aus Report

    I have a 9yr old daughter, the eldest of 3. She has so many good qualities, she is intelligent and doing well at school, she has friends, she is sensible and works very hard BUT she is driving me to tears. Why? Because she is so demanding. If we go out she nags constantly, whether it is to go somewhere else or for icecreams or whatever but she just goes on and on and will not accept no for an answer. If she doesn’t get what she wants she says that we are selfish and has tantrums. I have noticed that my husband and I gang up on her and it turns into a shouting match. I am so ashamed of the things I have said to her. I am finding that if we sit down and talk with her she knows how she is behaving and turns back into the lovely girl that she is. I would love to be able to just say “no” but she turns into the Tasmanian Devil cartoon.

  20. cryin' eyes Report

    I think the WORST thing that I have heard my daughter’s father say is:


    I cringe and want to strike out when I hear him say that to her. I think that is the worst thing you can say to a child, especially a 6-7 year old GIRL!!!!

  21. Lindiwe Jawe Report

    Thank you very very much guys,you are really helping alot as I know bu now what to tell my child and what I dont need to say.Keep up the good work I really appreciate you help.

  22. paganmama81 Report

    These are all very good to remember as days go by. I already live by the rule of not saying “Shut up”. It was said in my childhood home too many times, and I vowed as a parent never to say that to my children. Sometimes my husband slips up, but I always remind him, and he is quick to apologize! I do have one thing on here I don’t agree with, and that is with the last statements. I don’t believe in asking my children why they did something. It’s almost like giving them the idea that sometimes, there is a good reason to [hit/pinch/scream at/lie/bite/kick/etc.]. I’d rather explain to them why it’s not okay to do something, and then leave opportunity for questions to help them understand.

  23. Amy Report

    Nothing wrong with saying “Because we as your parents have the perogative to determine what is best.” Feeling anything less is sending the wrong message.

  24. Shame on you Report

    For sure the phrase “shame on you” should never be overused. In fact, I think I have only used it once and have 4 almost grown children.(18-12)I remember being specifically told by a mentor of mine that this term can be very valuable when used correctly. Sometimes a heartfelt caring “shame on you” said in a gentle humble voice can really make a child think about their behavior. Use it wisely but don’t feel it is never appropriate. Kids and adults need to be confronted gently about shaming behavior.

  25. Frau_Mahlzahn Report

    I do agree that what you tell your children should be plausible for them to understand, and they should be able to understand what you are asking them to do. But, hey, if a kid just will not understand a “no” and keeps arguing… end of discussion. So, “Because I said so” is totally okay in some cases. Beware of getting involved in arguments and discussions with your kids about things you need them to do!

    So long,

  26. Sprog Blogs Report

    Very Helpful Information. Thanks for sharing it and making the parents aware of these basic but must things. Can say a very great parenting advice blog.

    Sprog Blog

  27. Lorelei Report

    Too funny about the “Because I said so” rule. I always said I would never use that as an excuse to my child because it was always used on me. I still have not used it as I am famous for giving reasons and examples as to why (maybe too much) Now my 7 year old child always tells me BECAUSE or Because I said so. oh no, this is not acceptable to me.
    I tell him, “do I ever tell you that? no, because I respect you enough to give you a legitimate answer as to why you shouldn’t do that, now I would appreciate the same respect and give me an answer” It doesn’t always work to get an explanation from him, but I am hoping he will eventually realize it is not an acceptable answer and not do it to his child as the easy way out.

  28. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Gina, I caught myself saying, “Because I said so,” the other day. It made me laugh at myself a little bit, because that’s one of those things I swore I’d never say. Thanks for the reminder to “choose our words” more carefully.

  29. Melody Report

    Thank you so much for putting this into words! I have tweeted and Facebook linked this before, but I’m back to print a copy and hang it up for the rest of the family!!!!



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