There are times when I think Pixar gets things exactly right. In the 2006 movie Cars, there’s a moment when Lightning McQueen looks at Sally, the Porsche he’s trying to impress, and says “I create feelings in others that they themselves don’t understand.” That one sentence encapsulates my experience of being a dad.
There are moments I experience love, joy, and pride in who my kids are becoming. Other moments, I can’t believe what’s going on in my house, and before I know it, something crazy is coming out of my mouth. While some of them are funny, these are some of the things you should never say to your child (but probably wish you could).
“Thank you. Fixing a hole in the wall is exactly how I want to spend my day.”
My kids have an uncanny ability to wreck things. It can be home electronics, furniture, or even the walls in our house. Life as a dad means fixing many things—a lot of which I don’t think needed to be broken in the first place. My frustration can bring out sarcastic words, which you shouldn’t say to a child because they don’t understand what sarcasm is. They might take you literally, and the next thing you know, you’ll be fixing another hole in the wall.
“If you do that again, I’m turning this car around RIGHT NOW.”
My mother-in-law lives a six-hour drive away from us (eight hours when traveling with kids.) When you spend an entire day cooped up in a vehicle, tempers flare. Our kids have fought about almost everything under the sun. It can bring out the old parental threat: “If you do that again, I’m turning this car around right now.” The trouble with this is that we never have any intention of following through on this threat. An idle threat is one of those things you should never say to children because they will figure out you aren’t serious, and you’ll lose their respect.
“I love how you think about yourself all the time.”
One of the great parenting struggles comes from trying to teach your kids to think of others. Yes, our kids are naturally self-centered, but this is an absolute statement that is most likely untrue. No kid is self-centered all the time. When we correct kids using absolutes, we not only fail to give them concrete examples of the behavior we want to see change, but we also neglect to recognize the good in them. We fail to acknowledge those moments when they have demonstrated compassion and empathy.
“Don’t touch yourself there; it’s dirty.”
At some point, most kids get curious about their bodies and want to explore their various parts. As parents, we need to teach them to self-care and the purpose of all their parts. For most of their bodies, this is very easy, but when they discover genitalia, it can be a difficult conversation. And it can be especially awkward if you happen upon one of your kids playing with their private parts. In this moment, you should never say, “Stop! That’s gross (or dirty)!” Teaching them that these parts of their bodies are shameful or dirty risks giving them an unhealthy view of their bodies and sex. It will make conversations about sex that much more difficult.
“What is wrong with you?”
I’ve reached my wits’ end with my kids more times than I’d like to admit. It’s happened with the littler kids and with my teenaged daughter. Exasperated, the words that sometimes come out of my mouth are “What’s wrong with you?” This is one of the things you should never say to children because they might believe it and come to think that there really is something wrong with them. When we correct our kids, we need to spell this out: It’s their behavior we don’t like, but we still love them.
Earn some points: Are you married? Share this iMOM article with your wife: 5 Things to Say to Your Kids Every Day.
Sound off: What are some better ways to respond when your kids drive you crazy?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “When you have a hard time getting along with someone, what do you do?”