Parents Who Raise Successful Kids Never Use These 5 Phrases

See tips from renowned child psychologist and author Tovah Klein for avoiding bad situations

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Language is important when you’re talking to kids — especially in the heat of a tense moment. When a child is misbehaving or having a tantrum, it’s easy to say whatever you think might make them calm down and behave. But certain common phrases can “shame” a child and do lasting damage to their self-esteem, says Tovah Klein, child psychologist and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.”

Any phrase that seems to blame the child for a behavior or emotion they’re experiencing is a problem, says Klein, who is also director of the Child Development Center at Barnard College. Barnard is an undergraduate women’s college at Columbia University.

“Shame can really be toxic for a young child because they carry with them, ‘I’m not supposed to be very good. I shouldn’t try this,'” Klein tells CNBC Make It. “It really becomes a feeling of self-doubt. It’s like a weakness.”

5 phrases you should never say to your kids

When children are shamed by their parents, the people whose love and opinions matter most to them, their confidence and motivation decline, research shows. This makes them less likely to try new things and take on new challenges, traits they need to be successful later in life.

Most of the time, parents don’t want to embarrass their children, says Klein. This can manifest itself as an exaggerated sigh or eye roll, and a snarky comment like:

  • • “You’re in a bad mood again. You’re always in a bad mood.”
  • • “Why do you always get upset when that happens?”
  • • “You really needed to do this [comportamento negativo] again?”
  • • “This is ridiculous!”
  • • “You are exaggerating.”

“Usually, this is just a sign of frustration,” says Klein. Perhaps your child is fighting with his sibling again, suddenly pretending not to listen to his requests, or refusing to do something he normally doesn’t care about.

“You think you have a really sweet kid, which is true most of the time,” Klein says. “And then your child just doesn’t want to do something ― they don’t want to go out to dinner with grandma and grandpa and they’re walking around the house, for example.”

Putting your child down for his bad temper and sulking face “makes the child feel terrible” and makes him wonder if something is permanently wrong with him, says Klein.

What can you say instead

First off, you can always step back and take a deep breath before saying anything, Klein says. Ask yourself: “What is happening to me, that I am angry and disappointed in my child?”

Remember that children, like adults, are “made to experience a variety of feelings, some positive and many negative,” says Klein. Then choose responses that empathize with your child until his bad mood inevitably passes.

Here are four examples, according to Klein:

  • • “You don’t want to do this right now, and I understand. But, yeah, we have to go.”
  • • “If this is difficult, I’ll help you.”
  • • “I wish we could do this.”
  • • “Do you want to go outside? I understand. Unfortunately, we can’t right now.”

Acknowledge their disappointment before moving forward and be firm about what needs to happen, letting them know you’re not ditching plans just because they’re momentarily in a bad mood. You don’t have to “talk too much,” says Klein: “But a little empathy helps.”

Ignore yes, but with respect

In some situations, you can also practice “respectfully ignoring” a child who is acting defiantly, adds Klein: Rather than dismissing or ignoring the behavior, calmly wait for it to pass. Say something like, “I’m just going to get our stuff ready. I’ll come back and pick you up later.”

If you lose your temper and say something you regret, you will need to own up to your mistake in order to re-establish trust with your child. “You make them less fearful by saying, ‘This is tough. I yelled, and you got upset, but it’s okay now,'” Klein concludes.

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