things never to tell children

Seven 4-Letter Words Never to Say to Your Child

“Hey Dad, listen! I can spell _____.” With every letter, my eyes got wide and my jaw dropped. I was pretty sure this colorful word wasn’t on my son’s spelling list.

We obsess with the words that come out of our kids’ mouths because words hold power.

We obsess with the words that come out of our kids’ mouths because words hold power. But there is another collection of “4-letter words” we should be paying just as much attention to that do even more damage. Here are things never to tell children in the form of seven 4-letter words.

1. Lazy

“You’re struggling in math not because you’re not smart. You’re struggling because you’re lazy.” When those words come out of a parent’s mouth, we think they should inspire and motivate. After all, you see untapped potential in your child. But “lazy” is one of those things never to tell children because you’re name-calling and labeling with a word that carries a lot of weight.

Calling a child lazy is dangerous because “lazy” describes work, and in our country, work and worth are synonymous. Plus, there could be other reasons why your child isn’t working or achieving. Maybe what looks like laziness is actually procrastination due to fear of failure or discouragement from a previous failure.

2. Liar/Slut/Dumb

More name-calling, but these three 4-letter words label your child based on actions and mistakes. “You look like a slut in that outfit,” “You are such a liar. I knew you snuck extra cookies when I wasn’t looking,” or “I can’t believe you’d be so dumb to forget your homework.”

Taking a mistake or a poor choice and making it a label will tell your children you’ve lowered your expectations of who they are. It creeps in and becomes a sliver of their identity.

3. Stop

OK, we can’t pull this one out of our vocabulary entirely. If we did, we’d all have a ton of whipped cream on our ice cream sundaes! Hmm—not such a bad thing. But if “stop” is the start of most of your instructions, you’ve probably got some really frustrated kids on your hands. “Stop” leaves kids on their own to figure out what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

Think of it like putting your children behind the wheel of a car to drive to a place they’ve never been. When they reach a stop sign, you’d tell them either to continue straight or to make a turn, wouldn’t you? Just telling them to stop leaves a lot of opportunities for them to get lost.

4. Diet

Our kids have the rest of their lives to worry about their weight. We have the power to set them up for success by teaching them how to have a healthy relationship with food, and telling them they need to go on a diet won’t achieve that.

When we talk about dieting with our children or encourage them to count calories or restrict certain types of food, we are teaching them to ignore their bodies’ hunger cues and that food is the enemy. A lot of adults wrestle with food issues, but let’s let our kids be kids, eat treats within reason, and sneak in fruits and veggies.

5. Baby

“Why are you acting like such a baby?” My younger son is sensitive and will go to his room and cry over the most (seemingly) inconsequential thing. It feels overdramatic to me, but to him, he’s having a moment, and crying feels right.

Even when our kids behave at a level that we feel is immature, name-calling won’t achieve anything other than shame. A better option is to affirm that their feelings are valid, wait for the crying to stop, and then help them verbalize their feelings.

Sound off: These are just a few things never to tell children. What’s a word you try not to use around your kids (No, it doesn’t need to be 4-letters.)?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to you?”