10 Stupid Things I’ve Said to My Kids (So You Don’t Have To)

hands over mouth

While I am aware that there is no instruction manual for parenting, I often wish that there were a series of scripts because I have said some of the stupidest things to my kids over the years.

And I know that I am not alone because I have also heard some well-meaning and unintentionally destructive words fly from the mouths of really awesome parents.

With better than two decades of parenting and having literally thousands of families come through my gym, you think that I would be a pro at exactly what to say (and not say) to my children.

I’m not.

Instead what I am is perfectly practiced in having messed up enough myself (or witnessed others) that I have a few of the more likely scenarios well rehearsed and a perspective on what I should have said instead of what I did say.

So here are, in no particular order, ten things I have been guilty of saying and what I should have said instead.

1. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Even if that is true, it doesn’t matter to the person who is afraid. Fear is an emotional reaction. When someone is in the middle of an emotional reaction, appealing to his or her sense of logic is useless. Besides, it is your opinion that there is nothing to be afraid of; it is the other person’s opinion that there is. Agree to disagree. Instead try saying, “I see you’re afraid. Do you want to talk about it? How can I help?”

2. “You are so talented.” What does that even mean? Talent is like inherited money—it seems good to have but often it is a burden to the person who has it because it limits them in understanding what they are capable of by their own efforts. We all have natural capabilities in areas. So what? It is our work, our effort and our dedication that makes those talents something for which we can be proud of. So, in lieu of discussing talent, emphasize your child’s efforts in his or her results: “It is impressive what you can accomplish when you work hard.”

3. “Stop crying.” Crying is a normal reaction to pain, anger or frustration. There is no need to stop crying. Sure it’s distressing and sometimes annoying to listen to, but so what? If your child is crying, acknowledge his or her emotions by helping her label them, “I can see that you are disappointed/upset” etc. If the crying is essentially a tantrum, help your child find a place to cool off. You do not have to put up with inappropriate outbursts, and it’s your job as a parent to help your child understand the difference. “I need you to go into your room until you are ready to talk about this.”

4. “It’s no big deal.” To whom? Maybe not to you, but it is to your child. Diminishing the feelings of your child because you have a different perspective does not cause your child to take your perspective; it just causes your child to stop telling you things that are upsetting to him or her. Again, acknowledging the child’s feelings “I see you are upset” or “I can tell that this is important to you” gives your child space to vent.

5. “Practice makes perfect.” It’s a cute and pity phrase. It’s also wrong. Try “Practice makes progress.” Or “Effort achieves excellence.”

6. “You’re wasting my money.” This is a tough one. Especially as your child gets older and should have a better understanding of the responsibility of using family resources wisely and valuing that which he or she is given. However, first, you are making an assumption that the money is being “wasted.” Ask yourself why you think that. Is it because your child has not progressed to a certain point or is it because your child is skipping practice? And second, the operative pronoun here is MY. It’s your money. You are choosing how to spend it, so you are wasting it. Instead, talk to your child about the value of the lessons they are receiving. Try “You don’t seem to want to participate in practice. Tuition is expensive and I am happy to pay it if you find value in your classes. If you do not, then let’s talk about whether it makes sense to put our family resources toward this.”

7. “Quit worrying.” Of course we don’t want our kids to feel anxious, but they are going to because worrying about things that matter to you is a normal reaction. Instead, try to move them from worry to action by asking them “What can you do about it?” They might come up with some ideas of things they can do to alleviate their stress, like take a walk or breathing exercises. Or, if the answer is that the thing they are worrying about is beyond their control, then it is a great opportunity to teach them the serenity prayer. I’m not even religious, and I love the serenity prayer.

8. “I thought you deserved a higher score.” This is well meaning, I know. But each time you undermine the authority of the people who are trying to create a sports experience for you child, it’s unkind. Furthermore, unless you are a judge and you have been judging all day so as to be consistent across all the athletes, you are not qualified to discuss the score. Try not saying a word about your child’s score. It is possible you know. If you do feel that there was an egregious error or you do not understand the score, speak to the coach (after the meet, privately) not to your child.

9. “If you go for your series, I’ll buy you a new iPad.” No, no, no. It is not your job to entice your child to do what is supposed to be her hobby. And, while fun little celebrations (“You made your series! Let’s celebrate at dinner—you pick the restaurant!”) are great, trying to bribe your child to do a sport is not a good idea. Leave it to her coaches to motivate her; you celebrate her.

10. “Do you want to quit?” I cannot tell you the number of times that this is the first question from a parent when a child experiences a struggle or has a bad day. I worry that every time they fight with their partner that the question is “Do you want a divorce?” No, I am just mad that you forgot to buy milk. Maybe your child does want to stop the sport, maybe she just had a rotten workout and is looking for a little encouragement. Try “Sounds like it was a rough day. What are you thinking?”

Parents are human. We have bad days too. And we don’t have to be perfect to be perfectly great parents. But we can learn from each other.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and so it is true for parents too.