Making threats or shaming junior are dreadful things a parent can do to their child. Find out why.

Kids-5-worst-things-to-say-to-your-kid-MAIN (1)

Bringing up children is the one of hardest jobs a parent can take on. And face it, we all make mistakes at some point or other. In conjunction with the Singapore Parenting Congress, we approached Esther Lai, a Family Life Educator since 2004, as well as life coach, about absolute “never use” phrases you should avoid when talking to your children…

1. Never use: “What’s wrong with you ?”

Says Lai, a shame-inducing phrase like this tells kids that they themselves are flawed and that there’s something wrong with them — rather than that their choice of action or speech was wrong.
“Your child’s actions are almost always an attempt to meet a perceived need. Say you found your 6-year-old spraying shaving cream on the mirror, instead of screaming, think: Is he or she trying to get your attention or learn information (what happens if I do this?) or trying out creative engagement (don’t they do that for Christmas window dressing?),” says Lai.
Try this: “Hey, what’s happening here?” Listen to his or her explanation (or excuse), before you launch into an explanation on the use of shaving cream and the inappropriate behaviour.

2. Never use: “If you do that one more time…”

Firstly, you are threatening a child — which makes them fearful of you. Then also, “you are also modelling to them to get what they want (in this case, you are trying to get their cooperation) through aggression and intimidation” says Lai. Remember that someday, they could grow up to be larger and possibly louder and even more powerful than you.
Try this: “I don’t like it when you [fill in action]…” then coach them on a better way to do it.

3. Never use: “Wait till your Dad (or Mum) comes home!”

“We are creating anxiety and fear in the child, especially of Dad (or Mum), who wasn’t even there when it happened,” explains Lai. It also demonstrates our lack of confidence in disciplining them, and desire to pass the responsibility to someone else.
Try this: As a parent, you should deal with the discipline part of it on the spot — “you’ve been told not to play with water” for instance — and let your child know that you will bring this up with your spouse later (“Junior was playing with water — we need to discuss this…” for instance).

4. Never use: “Don’t argue with me”

Questioning, analysing and arguing — they are all part of a child’s development and vital to bringing up an intelligent child who questions existing norms and creates.
Try this: “Instead of shutting them off, allow your child to present their opinion,” says Lai. Often, she explains, an argument with a child is not simply about the topic at hand. “There’s the situation and there’s the emotions. Knowing the connection between feelings and behaviours, and then teaching your child how to process those feelings is so valuable to parenting!”

5. Never use: “You are making me mad!”

This phrase uses guilt to motivate a child to change. And although we may (often) feel like our kids are driving us up the wall — saying it out loud is going to make it worse by stirring-up upset feelings in the child.
Try this: “I love you too much to fight with you about this. I’m going to take a little break until I can calm myself down and then we can talk about this when we are both ready.” Then walk away so that you can think rationally about what your child needs.

Esther Lai is a master coach and family life educator, can be reached via e-mail at or read her blog.

Photo: iStock

Like us on Facebook and check SmartParents regularly for the latest reads!

Also check out…

Listening actively to your child: 5 tips

5 ways to guide junior into a happy teen

Why your kids should fight