Through my work, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to and working with thousands of students, young adults and parents.
Two things have become painfully obvious to me.
First, it’s extraordinarily difficult to be a world-class parent.
Second, a significant proportion of students and young adults’ frustrations are caused by their parents.
I’m not a parent myself, but I’ve observed what many parents say to their children, which can negatively impact them—sometimes for life.
From a child and a student’s perspective, here are 10 things that parents should never say:
1. “You’re useless” or “You’re a failure”
It’s shocking how many parents say this to their children in a fit of anger.
This is the type of phrase that can scar children deeply, and can make them doubt their worth as a human being.
2. “I know what’s best for you”
As a parent, you might feel like you really do know what’s best for your children, but using this phrase is not at all effective in convincing them that you're right.
Instead, parents should do all they can to empower their children to take full responsibility for their choices and their life.
3. “Because I said so!”
This is another phrase that’s unlikely to be persuasive.
Parents need to establish boundaries for their children, but “Because I said so” isn’t enough reason for children to be convinced that staying within those boundaries is a good idea.
4. “I told you so”
It’s tempting for parents to say this when it turns out that their advice that their children had ignored was, in fact, correct.
If you’re a parent, I urge you to refrain from using this phrase. Saying “I told you so” is sure to annoy your children and to cause strain in the relationship.
5. “So clever!”
Here are some instances where parents might exclaim “So clever!”:
- A two-year-old keeps his or her toys after playing with them
- A three-year-old says “Thank you” after receiving a present
- A 12-year-old decides to learn about Einstein’s theory of relativity
Parents (and all of us, in general) have subconsciously come to associate responsibility, politeness and curiosity with “cleverness”.
When they do this, however, they begin to unintentionally tell their children that intelligence is all-important, when in fact most of us would agree that integrity and morals are even more important.
Parents should emphasize character and values, while not neglecting the worth of hard work and a love for learning.
When parents praise their child, they should be specific, rather than just saying "So clever!"
For example, they could say "That was kind of you to help that lady carry her groceries" or "That was generous of you to share your toys with your friend".
6. “Why can’t you be more like…”
It’s natural for parents to draw comparisons to other children, but doing so can cause psychological damage to their own children.
Parents ought to focus on what makes their children unique, and encourage them to be the best version of themselves that they can be, instead of merely trying to be better than others.
7. “I wish you weren’t my son/daughter”
Some parents say this when they’re feeling especially frustrated or upset with their children.
I’ve spoken to students whose parents had said this to them more than 10 years earlier, but they still harboured immense bitterness and resentment toward their parents for making such a hurtful statement.
8. “You’re such a terrible boy/girl!”
Children have a strange way of becoming the kind of person that their parents, as well as those closest to them, imagine them to be.
When a child misbehaves, parents could say something like this instead: “This is so unlike you. You’re usually such a considerate and responsible boy. You’ll still be punished for misbehaving, but this is really not like you at all to do something so naughty.”
9. “You always…” or “You never…”
When trying to correct their child’s behaviour, it’s much more effective for parents to point out specific instances or examples, rather than tell their child that “You always forget to do your chores” or “You never keep your promises”.
10.“Don’t argue with me”
When parents say this during a disagreement, they cause their child to feel even angrier and less willing to obey or compromise.
Parents should reason with their child and explain their perspective calmly. It’s crucial that parents don’t lose their cool!
As a parent, you have the ability to powerfully influence your children’s future and destiny.
What a noble yet daunting responsibility!
To all of you parents reading this article: I know you’re up to the challenge.
Daniel Wong is the bestselling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers The Exam Excellence (TEE) Mentoring Programme to help students to find exam success, while discovering new purpose in their journey of education. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here.