7 Things Never to Call a Child

During the All Pro Dad podcast episode How Do I Stop Labeling My Child?, All Pro Dad Expansion Specialist Reggie Lewis told a story about walking down the street as a kid with his parents. His dad was talking about their family and mentioned that Reggie was “a mistake.” It crushed him. He now had a label, and it shaped the way he viewed himself.

I’m sure his parents weren’t trying to be malicious. Nonetheless, the words stuck—so much so that he still has the moment earmarked in his brain as an adult. The only way it could have been worse is if his parents had done it on purpose. In their eyes, it may have seemed harmless, but it was anything but. We do this, too. As parents, some of the words we say stick around longer than others. Here are 7 things never to call a child.

1. Selfish

As Psychology Today puts it, “…we all start out the same way: at the center of our own universe.” Kids, especially little ones, “developmentally have a limited ability to think about others.” That leads them to become a little selfish. But don’t call them that. Telling a child he or she is selfish can have devastating effects on self-esteem, courage, and self-image. A parent’s words should sound like the wisdom from Proverbs 16:24, “…sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Choose to say something sweet when kids are unselfish, like how proud you are that they chose to be considerate, thoughtful, or generous toward others.

2. A Mistake

There are a few great visual examples found in James 3 about how powerful our words can be. The scripture describes how a ship’s tiny rudder easily steers an enormous ship, a small bridle can turn a hulking horse, and a little spark can start a raging wildfire. Likewise, your seemingly insignificant words can create major problems. Reggie felt this way. Being called a mistake by his parents shaped his worldview. Not every child is “planned,” but every child has a purpose. If your family welcomed a child unexpectedly, make sure to carefully choose your words while discussing that when they’re old enough to understand.

3. Annoying

Annoying things are things we don’t want to be around, like sirens, mosquitos, roosters. Calling your kids annoying conveys to them that you wish you could escape from them. Kids should never be made to feel like an irritant. Kids are a blessing, even though they can get on your nerves sometimes.

4. Stupid/Dumb

Failing to get straight A’s doesn’t make someone stupid. Kids aren’t dumb if they make a mistake. They aren’t dumb if they say the wrong thing at the wrong time. They are kids, trying to figure out how to be their best. Encourage them when they struggle in school.

5. Boring

My daughter would be perfectly happy sitting in her room and reading for 16 hours per day. I would find that boring. I need a little more stimulation than that, but not her. What I consider boring, she considers exciting. Sometimes, what we call boring isn’t boring objectively. So “that’s boring” is one of the things parents should never say to their child. Kids won’t hear it as criticism of a hobby. They’ll hear it as criticism of them. We need to make sure our kids know they’re important, interesting, and valuable.

6. Needy

If kids are trying to get your attention, it’s not because they want to bug you or interrupt you while you prepare dinner. They really just crave time with you, and sometimes, this can come across as needy. But calling kids needy has a negative connotation. If kids get the hint that they are getting on your nerves, they’ll start seeking your attention less often. Nobody wins in that scenario.

7. Lazy

This can be devastating to a child, especially one who is trying his or her best. It’s not inspiring kids to achieve. It’s telling them whatever effort they offer isn’t good enough. This is a poor strategy to motivate a child. Proverbs 18:21 says that life and death are in the power of the tongue. The average person speaks 7,000 words per day. Don’t use even one of them to drag a kid down.

Sound off: What is something you were called as a child that still sticks with you today?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How does it feel when someone calls you a mean name?”