You probably wouldn’t use old-school phrases like “Wait until your father gets home” or “I wish you were more like your sister” with your kids. But there are lots of less obvious ones that you should avoid, for their sake and yours.
1. “Great Job.”
Research has shown that tossing out a generic phrase like “Good girl” or “Way to go” every time your child masters a skill makes her dependent on your affirmation rather than her own motivation, says Parents advisor Jenn Berman, Psy.D., author ofThe A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. Save the kudos for when they’re truly warranted, and be as specific as you can. Instead of “Super game,” say, “That was a nice assist. I like how you looked for your teammate.”
2. “Practice makes perfect.”
It’s true that the more time your child devotes, the sharper his skills will become. However, this adage can ramp up the pressure he feels to win or excel. “It sends the message that if you make mistakes, you didn’t train hard enough,” says Joel Fish, Ph.D., author of 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent. “I’ve seen kids beat themselves up, wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me? I practice, practice, practice, and I’m still not the best.'” Instead, encourage your child to work hard because he’ll improve and feel proud of his progress.
3. “You’re okay.”
When your child scrapes his knee and bursts into tears, your instinct may be to reassure him that he’s not badly hurt. But telling him he’s fine may only make him feel worse. “Your kid is crying because he’s not okay,” says Dr. Berman. Your job is to help him understand and deal with his emotions, not discount them. Try giving him a hug and acknowledging what he’s feeling by saying something like, “That was a scary fall.” Then ask whether he’d like a bandage or a kiss (or both).
4. “Hurry up!”
Your child dawdles over her breakfast, insists on tying her own sneakers (even though she hasn’t quite mastered the technique yet), and is on pace to be late for school — again. But pushing her to get a move on creates additional stress, says Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., coauthor of Baby Minds. Soften your tone slightly by saying, “Let’s hurry,” which sends the message that the two of you are on the same team. You can also turn the act of getting ready into a game: “Why don’t we race to see who can get her pants on first?”
5. “I’m on a diet.”
Watching your weight? Keep it to yourself. If your child sees you stepping on the scale every day and hears you talk about being “fat,” she may develop an unhealthy body image, says Marc S. Jacobson, M.D., professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, New York. It’s better to say, “I’m eating healthy because I like the way it makes me feel.” Take the same tack with working out. “I need to exercise” can sound like a complaint, but “It’s beautiful outside — I’m going to take a walk” may inspire her to join you.