things you should never say to your child

5 Things Not to Say to Your Kids

I was working as an assistant coach for a high school football team and before each season the coach would have a senior retreat. It was an opportunity for the seniors to get on the same page. My favorite part of the night was when each senior was given the chance to speak and share about their lives. One of the most shocking moments occurred when a star player stood and told a story about his dad. He couldn’t hold back the tears as he revealed his father’s words to him, “You are an amazing disappointment to me.” The pain of those words ran deep.

Words hurt. Never underestimate the power of a few well-chosen, or careless, words. This is especially true of a dad’s words to his children. Here are 5 things you should never say to your child.

1. “I don’t believe in you.”

The simple fact of knowing that dad believes in them gives your kids strength, courage, motivation, tenacity, and more. Take that belief away and the damage will be huge.

2. “You’re such a disappointment.”

Our kids can mess up, and they will. But if we want our children to learn from their mistakes, it’s the mess we address and how it can be fixed. We need to separate the child – who is not a failure – from the mess. The label of “failure” is a heavy load to carry, and most kids won’t hold up.

3. “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”

Comparisons are a waste of time; they’re hurtful and they serve no positive purpose. Each child is an individual and their calling is to live into the possibilities that go with who God created them to be.

4. Anything negative about your spouse.

Whether divorced, happily married, or struggling, never complain about your spouse to your kids. Never, ever. Every dad we know who went down that road has had a bad experience. Every dad who talks about their spouse with 100% respect ends up being respected more himself.

5. Nothing.

Just as solitary confinement is one of the most difficult punishments to endure, being squeezed out or ignored by a parent can be damaging to your child. Talk with your child. Open dialogue means the relationship is going somewhere.

Sound Off

What are some other things we should never say to our kids?

  • Scott Smyth

    What if your child has a habit of deception so that you really do have trouble believing him/her? Why can’t you say that? Trust when broken, takes some time to build back.

    • BJ_Foster

      Thanks for the feedback. I think you misread the statement above. The article says not to say, “I don’t believe IN you”, not “I don’t believe you.” The former suggests that they are a lost cause and completely incapable. It is an utter rejection of them as a person. The latter has to do with their trustworthiness, which as you said truthfully, does take time to build back. I agree completely with what you said. It’s more than fine to say something like, “It’s hard for me to believe you given what has happened in the past. That’s why telling the truth is so important.”

      • Scott Smyth

        You’re right, it does look like I misread and missed the ‘in’. Sorry about that. To carry on the discussion…how does a child not get the message that a parent doesn’t believe *in* him or her when they are told “I (generally) can’t trust you”. Won’t that be a fine distinction that is lost on a teen in the midst of stress, struggle, pressure, hormones, etc?

        • BJ_Foster

          I think it is definitely a challenge and there will be plenty of times where they will have selective hearing. In my work with teenagers I have found that it is really important to earn the right to be heard. Be present and step into their world as much as possible – see the world through their eyes and perspective. Take interest in their interests and do their favorite activities no matter how uncomfortable. Consistently communicate (in word and action) that their value is not in their performance. Then give them small opportunities to earn trust and affirm them when they follow through. Here are some other things I have written about teenagers that might also help:

          • Scott Smyth

            Thank you for the good advice and links. What if the thing the teen loves doing is uncomfortable because it’s harmful to them in some way? (Like playing violent 3D video games with your son, or watching pop music videos on Youtube?)

          • BJ_Foster

            My pleasure. I think you could go either way on the gaming/Youtube issue. If you do play with him it would give you openings to discuss why it can be problematic. However, I don’t think you need to and I definitely wouldn’t do it if you feel like it is detrimental to you as well. If you choose not to I would do as many other things as you can that are in his world and interests. That will still win you the right to discuss the potential harm or your concern in the things you mentioned. If those are literally the only things he is into then I would invite him to do some of your favorite things. There is a lot of power in playing together.

  • Whitney Sparks

    I totally agree with #5. It tears me apart to hear children listening to parents put each other down. To a child, their mom/dad is the greatest thing that has ever happened to them. As an educator, I’ve learned that kids even love parents that are neglectful or abusive. It doesn’t always make sense, but that person is still their parent. Plus, one thing my husband has said is that kids relate their father to our Heavenly Father. I think we should consider this when talking about our husbands to our children or when husbands talk about their wives.

    • Marcia Roberts, cert. Teacher

      What about if your ex abused you physically or sexually or has done these things to your child? I am careful about how I say things, but I refuse to pretend he is a good and safe person for my kids to be around? They have court ordered visitation 10 nights a month despite the evidence. Those visits are terrifying. Now my oldest returns from these visits full of lies about me and is very disrespectful and challenging towards me. He is 21 and I will not allow that in my home. I left 8 years ago to get my kids away from that!!

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Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Have I ever said anything that hurt your feelings?”

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