If you are a new parent, you will be told to read and speak to your child from the day they are born and as often as you can.

As your child graduates from babyhood into toddlerhood, you will most likely find yourself talking to your child even more. Most of it will be things like, “No. Don’t put that in your mouth” or “Don’t hit others with your truck!” Occasionally, you will also find yourself saying positive things like, “I am so proud of you” and “I love you”.

We parents often have to remind ourselves to focus on the positive and not the negatives when bringing up our children. And gosh, that can be extremely difficult, especially if your toddler is experiencing the Terrible Twos or Threes.

But guess what? What if the positive, encouraging things you think you are saying are not actually doing any good for your child too? “Eeek! What?!” You think.

We totally understand your confusion. We were confused too at first. What is wrong with saying positive, encouraging things to your kids? Isn’t that supposed to build your child’s self-esteem?

Well, sometimes, it can do the opposite. Sometimes you may say things that you believe are helping your child but really isn’t. Some of these phrases may sound like a great thing to say to help your child but it is actually counterintuitive.

The examples below explain why. Along with other common statements that parents say to their children unknowingly. After all, a huge number of parenting mistakes occur simply because we are unaware that we should or shouldn’t do something.

Like we mentioned in other posts before, we don’t judge- we have all made these mistakes too. But sharing is caring right?

So try to guess which ones below are things you should say or not say.

Scenario 1: You Are Smart

Chad is a greatly loved child. Mom and Dad want to build up his self-esteem so that they take every chance they can get to remind Chad that he is a smart boy.

“Did you just put those blocks together, Chad? You are such a smart boy! Chad smiles shyly and then walks away. Should you say this to your child?

Answer: Never.

Why?

This may sound counterintuitive to self-esteem but according to Carol Dweck’s research, kids who are told that they are smart actually end up doing worse in activities than students who are praised for using effort.

This is because kids tend to believe that attributes like intelligence, beauty and creativity are fixed. In other words, they believe that because they are smart, they should be able to do everything easily and not fail. The problem with this thinking of course, is that we learn by failing. After all, the smartest people in the world have all declared that they failed many times before they reached success. By believing that they are smart, your kids could be less likely to persevere when faced with difficult challenges.

Scenario 2: Good job!

5 year old Alison has just drawn an ugly picture of something that looks like a slug.

“Dad, I drew a cat!” You stifle your laughter and then say, Good job Alison! You are so great at drawing!” Should you say this to your child?

Answer: Never.

Why?

Kids who are used to being praised all the time eventually become immune to it and/or hunger for it all the time. You don’t want your kids to become addicted to praise nor do you want to water down the power of praise by overdoing it.

Kids also eventually become great detectors at fake praise. They know when they have done a bad job and if they feel that your praise is not genuine, they stop trusting what you say.

Reserve your praise for genuinely amazing stuff.

Scenario 3: We can’t afford that

Tom puts a packet of overpriced gourmet chocolate from the grocery shelf into your shopping trolley. It’s not on your shopping list.

“No, Tom. Put that back please. We can’t afford that.” Should you say this to your child?

Answer: Never.

Why?

Although this may indeed be a true statement and you want to teach your child about the importance of staying on budget and not living out of their means, using the words “we can’t afford that” can have a lot of negative impact.

Your child may start worrying excessively about family finances or start to feel “less than” other kids who are given that gourmet chocolate. There is also the risk that when your child grows up, gets a job and starts earning money, he or she will struggle with temptations to splurge on what he or she was denied.

Instead of saying “we can’t afford that,” say instead, “if we take that chocolate, it means we won’t be able to buy that delicious cinnamon toast that you like. Why don’t we get the cinnamon toast and see if we can find a better-priced chocolate bar so that you can have both?” In this way, you are teaching your child about staying on budget while also learning about how to value items for money paid.

Scenario 4: Who do you love more? Mommy or Daddy?

You are going through a messy divorce with your former spouse. Your child talks about missing his dad and you ask, “Who do you love more? Mommy or Daddy?” Should you say this to your child?

Answer: Never.

Why?

Children should never be asked to choose between their parents love. It’s like asking them, would you prefer to lose your right hand or your left? It’s unfair to bring kids into the midst of adult conflicts as research indicates that most kids believe that they caused their parents divorce and feel responsible to bring them back together. Kids think this even if the divorce is not their fault and the parents have never said it was.

As much as possible, don’t discuss intimate marital conflict issues with your child (they are not your therapist). Only share what is necessary (such as living arrangement changes) and always reassure your child of your love for them despite whatever may happen between you and your ex-partner.

Scenario 5: You are only allowed ice cream on your birthday.

James sees the ice cream truck parked close by at the playground. He is not allowed ice cream normally but he notices other children getting some. He asks for ice cream and you say, “You are only allowed ice cream on your birthday.” Should you say this to your child?

Answer: Never.

Why?

Although we applaud you that you are keeping sugar out of your child’s regular diet as much as possible, the problem with saying that your child is only allowed something on his birthday is that he starts to place even greater desire and priority for that thing. Some kids will even sneak behind your back if they happen to find or be given the banned food item. This of course, is worst as they are now hiding it from you.

A better solution may be to treat the food item like an unexciting, non-event item but something that your family doesn’t eat most of the time. As a comparison, think of say, pineapple? I don’t know many children who would hanker after pineapple or who would eat pineapple on a weekly or even yearly basis. After all it is pretty tasty. It’s just more of the fact that it’s a non-event fruit and if you happen to have it, you eat it but if not, no big deal.

So perhaps you could say, “Ice cream is not something we eat because it’s not good for our teeth but if Mommy and Daddy happen to buy some at the grocery store next time, you can have a little then.

So did you find yourself making any of the above mistakes? We did!

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