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What Not to Say to Your Kids: 9 No-Nos

What Not to Say to Your Kids: 9 No-Nos

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Updated on Aug 19, 2013

As a parent, it's impossible to keep your cool 24/7. There's only so much whining and tantrums a person can take before she snaps—even Supermom loses her temper from time to time!

When your kid's very young, your words aren't as important as your actions—but as your child ages, what you say has a huge effect on his self-esteem. Words can't be deleted like a bad comment on Facebook, so it pays to speak carefully. Child experts reveal what not to say to your kids, even when things get heated.

"I hope you don't end up like..." Focusing on what you don't want your child to become can be as detrimental as insulting him. "We get whatever we focus on, and whatever we focus on expands," says clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin. "If you suggest to kids that they are shy, fat, slow, just like their father ... it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

  • Instead: Focus on positive traits that you'd like to pass on to your kid: creativity, sense of humor, smarts, curiosity. Work on improvement instead of setting him up for failure by exploiting his weaknesses.

"You can't..." While you might preach realism as a parent, telling your little one that he simply can't do something that he's attempting is crippling. "Children revere what their parents think of them," says Tammy Gold, a parenting coach. "A simple insult could crush the self-esteem of a child."

  • Instead: Reserve restrictions to when your kid's safety or behavior is at risk. Otherwise, it's important to nurture exploration as part of a healthy childhood.

"Never." Family psychologist Edie Raether takes a hard line against negative parenting. "Never say never! That is the most important rule, as we all need to dwell in possibilities."

  • Instead: Give your child options. For instance, if he wants to take up BMX racing and you think it's too dangerous, what are some other sports or activities he could try instead?

"I'm gonna kill you!" OK, we've all had that moment where terrible words have slipped out. But using violent threats—kidding or otherwise—is never okay, according to school social worker Devra Gordon Renner.

  • Instead: Pay attention to how what you say is perceived by your child. You've had years to understand sarcasm and voice tone. Your little one? Not so much. Swap violent threats for real, healthy discipline. A time-out would be infinitely more appropriate.

"You are the reason why..." Unless you're going to finish that sentence with a positive statement, don't start it at all. Don't play the blame game. "These types of comments destroy a child's sense of unconditional love, place unfair and inappropriate blame on the child for adult issues, create insecurity and destroy self-confidence," warns child psychiatrist Tia Horner.

  • Instead: Take responsibility for your own adult problems. Your child is not to blame for an empty bank account or a bad divorce. Make sure you build him up by cherishing him, not making him feel guilty.
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