Top Ten Things We Shouldn’t Say to Our Children

Okay, so this post is pretty off-topic, but since I’m still taking a break from my writing tips, I’m declaring every topic fair game. Today, I got to thinking about some of the things I’ve told my children in the past, some of things my parents have said to me, and some of the things I’ve heard people tell their children. Most of these bits of advice are well-meaning. Many are ridiculous. Others are outdated. Let’s see if you agree with me…

#1 Your face will freeze like that. My grandma used to say this to me when I frowned or pouted. As a young child, I was smart enough to suspect my face wouldn’t really freeze in a hideous expression, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Grandma achieved the desired results because I usually stopped frowning/snarling/pouting at least long enough to visit a mirror. Harmless? Ridiculous? Threatening and possibly terrifying to a young child who takes everything literally and puts all their trust in you? You be the judge.


Courtesy of 123rf

#2 You can do anything you set your mind to. This is another grandma-ism. It’s a nice self-esteem-builder and confidence-booster. So why shouldn’t we say it to our children? Because it isn’t true. I think we should encourage our children to try and do their best, but inevitably, they are going to fail at some of their endeavors. They’re not going to succeed at everything they set their mind to. And, you know what? They shouldn’t necessarily try out every hare-brained scheme that pops into their minds. So, go ahead and give your kids that boost of confidence they need, but be realistic. If they set their mind to jumping off the roof of your two-story house onto the trampoline below, is that a good idea? Can they really work a part-time job, play on two sports teams, get straight As and do volunteer work? Help your child set realistic goals without stifling their dreams. No one can do everything, at least not all at once. Not every child can be a professional baseball-playing-billionaire-doctor-lawyer-astronaut-lion-tamer. They just can’t.


Courtesy of 123rf


#3 Just be yourself and everyone will like you. Are you sure? Some people are never going to like you.Sometimes lots of people aren’t going to like you. Let’s face it, some children are ultra-sensitive. Some are obnoxious. Some children have developmental or emotional disabilities that other children have a hard time understanding. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself. I’m definitely not advocating conformity. But when we tell our children that everyone will like them, we are truly setting them up for heartache. Because when they go forth being the best self they can be and some snot-nosed bully pushes them in the lunchroom, what have we really taught our child? Your “self” isn’t good enough.


Courtesy of 123rf

#4 The best way to handle a bully is to ignore them. Ask any child who has ever been bullied and they’ll tell you this approach absolutely does not work. Neither does “beating them at their own game” by turning the tables. I’m sure I’ll get comments giving me examples of how so-and-so’s brother in the 1950s thwarted a bully by kicking their butt in the schoolyard. Sorry, but that doesn’t work nowadays. Somehow the sneaky bullies get away with their behavior while the non-sneaky victim gets in trouble for retaliation. You can’t ignore a bully, nor should you expect your child to do so. Would you tell your child to ignore sexual abuse? A drug-dealer accosting them at the bus stop? Then why would you tell your child to ignore a bully? Don’t tell your child to “suck it up” or belittle what they’re experiencing by writing it off as “name calling” or “kids being kids.” Constant, persistent emotional, verbal, or physical abuse at the hands of a peer can cause your child to be depressed, hopeless, even suicidal. By telling your child to ignore a bully, you’re telling your child their feelings do not matter. Is that what you really want to say?


Courtesy of 123rf

#5 Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. Hmm. This goes back to #4. Words hurt. Words can kill. Children have taken their own lives after being ruthlessly bullied via social media or text message.



#6 You’re the smartest in your class/ best on your team. There’s nothing wrong with giving your child a compliment when they’ve earned it. Nothing wrong with building their self-esteem either. But, can every child be the best or smartest at everything? No, and they don’t need to be. Children should strive to do their best, not be the best. Not everyone will earn a spot on the traveling team. Not everyone will be inducted into the Honor Society. If your child has spent their entire life being told they’re the best or the smartest or the fastest, what are they going to do when they meet someone smarter, faster, or better? Being the best or the smartest is a lot to live up to.


#7 Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Not true. We don’t always do things correctly on our first try. We learn from our mistakes. Yes, children should have a work ethic. They should have pride in authorship. But, what does this saying really tell our children? “If you can’t make the traveling team, you might as well give up playing baseball altogether.” Or, “Why continue to sing if you didn’t make Concert Choir?” There are lots of things people should continue to do even if they aren’t very good at it. It’s okay to play an instrument, or sing karaoke, or join a sports team for the sake of having fun.

#8 You have to go to college. No you don’t. There are lots of successful people who didn’t go to college. And, there are lots of college graduates who can’t find a job or are stuck working at a job they hate. If your child wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, they will have to go to college. Certain careers require a college degree. But guess what? It isn’t the end of the world if your child decides to pursue other interests. Would you rather have a child who is happily working as a landscaper, or a child with a business degree who is paying student loans for twenty years while looking out the window of his corner office wishing he was a landscaper? There’s no shame in doing a job you enjoy, getting your hands dirty, working in fast-food, or being (gasp) a starving novelist. If you’re the parent of a teenager, I totally understand why you might want to steer him or her toward a realistic, but fulfilling career, but please remember that not every child has a burning desire to be a lawyer or an accountant. If you’re the parent of a four year old, please don’t squash his baby-angel dreams of being a clown or Christmas-tree-seller, or school bus driver. My thirteen-year-old son currently wants to be a professional skateboarder and have his own Youtube channel with tons of subscribers. I have to force myself to stop saying, “Don’t you want to go to college?” He’s thirteen. His dreams will change. And if they don’t? I’ll be sharing his skateboarding videos and Youtube channel with EVERYONE!




#9 Only babies/girls/sissies cry. What a horrible thing to say to a child–or to anyone, for that matter. Every child experiences grief, frustration, anger, sadness, or pain. These are all valid reasons to cry. I cringe when I hear parents (usually fathers) tell their children (usually sons) not to cry. I’m blessed to have husband who has never said that to our sons or daughters. By telling your child not to cry, you are invalidating their emotions. I’m in my forties, and I still cry. Crying is cathartic. Crying is cleansing. Crying is NOT just for babies.



#10 You’re not special. There’s been a recent backlash against helicopter parents and their helpless children. The “back in my day” brigade want us to banish “participation trophies” and end accommodations. Sure, there are kids who feel a sense of entitlement, or who have been so coddled, they scarcely know how to do their own laundry at the age of eighteen. But, you know what? Every child deserves to feel special to someone. There’s a huge difference between being special and being entitled. No, the world doesn’t owe you anything. Yes, you have to work for what you want in life. But, you’re still special. I’m special to my mom, my kids, and my husband. My kids will always be special to me. There’s nothing wrong with making our children feel special. And there’s nothing wrong with letting them face the consequences when they mess up.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment and let’s start a conversation.

22 thoughts on “Top Ten Things We Shouldn’t Say to Our Children

  1. My kids have been in the International section of their school which for the English speakers has meant American. They have been a mixed bunch: some full Americans, a few Brits, many French wannabee Americans because the parents are international business people, and one or two who just happen to speak English at home like my lot. Something very striking about the American kids is their ‘can do’ attitiude. It isn’t a European feature and gets up the nose of my own children. But they are successful at school. They might be in inner turmoil, but they behave as though they have no self doubt at all. Of course, these are atypical kids, and probably would be high acheivers anyway, but for the kids who doubt themselves, they are very difficult to get along with. Must be the same in American schoolrooms for the kids who are never going to be high-flyers intellectually.


    • All my kids are different. I have a couple who are very self-confident, and two who are more reserved. I often marvel at my outgoing kids. I have no idea where they get that from. I was always very shy in school.


  2. Such an interesting post, Tricia. Thanks so much for the validation, and the reminders to take things a bit easier and have a bit of fun. I totally agree with you about vocations and landscape gardeners, and often use that example with my daughter. 🙂


    • I wish I would have come to these conclusions about 20 years ago. I would have been more relaxed and had more fun. Glad I’m not the only one who uses the landscape gardener example!


      • Never mind, it is one of the compensations, perhaps, of being a slightly older parent, that we can see these things and laugh about them, instead of getting upset. Have a wonderful day. xx 🙂


    • Thanks, Harliqueen. I really wish I could say I’ve never said any of these things on my list, but I have. After 24 years of parenting, I have many regrets. I still say things I shouldn’t say because I’m tired/busy/not thinking about what’s coming out of my mouth. Now that my kids are grown (youngest is 13), I wish I would have taken things more slowly and enjoyed them more.


    • Thanks, Yvette. What to do about bullies? That would take me multiple blog posts to address, and even then, I probably wouldn’t have all the answers for every situation. It depends on the kid, the bully, the behavior, and the situation. When my oldest was being tormented on the bus, I (cringe) told him to ignore the bullies. When that didn’t work (of course, what was I thinking?) I made a call to the school. Fortunately, one phone call fixed the problem. Sadly, it’s not that easy for everyone. I have a friend who had to call the police because her child’s life was threatened. She eventually took the child out of school and homeschooled him. Obviously, that’s a very extreme case, but when it comes to protecting your child, extreme measures are sometimes necessary. Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, but looking back now, I can see that the worst thing you can tell a child is to ignore a problem. Anything response is better than, “just ignore the bullies and they’ll leave you alone.” Maybe a better response is, “What can I do to help you solve this?” At least your child knows you’re in their corner and on board with finding a solution, even if you can’t find a solution right away.


  3. I love your posts, Tricia, always thought provoking! 😀 xx

    One I dislike is: “Do as I say, not as I do”, what?! If you want to set good examples for your children, then ‘do’ good examples. Children take things literally and learn by doing and by example. Show kindness and respect for others, and your children will do the same, words are cheap, actions speak louder.

    I also dislike: “Do as you’re told”, this can be quite a dangerous thing to instill in children, if they take blind obedience too seriously, they could be easily manipulated by others, especially those who abuse their position of trust and authority. That was one of the reasons why priest paedophiles were able to get away with it for so long, as the children were so afraid to speak up, poor babies. 😦


    • Those are great examples Sophie and so very true! It’s dangerous to tell your child to blindly follow orders.

      Another one is: “Respect your elders.” I’d rather tell my child to treat others with respect. But, telling them to give automatic respect to adults is wrong. Respect is earned. And, this goes back to what you were saying about the paedophile priests who indeed were NOT worthy of respect.


      • Thanks sweetie, this was SUCH a great post of yours, as usual! 😀

        You’re spot on too, if children are taught to respect others, then it doesn’t matter whether those are their elders or their peers. 🙂


  4. Lots of food for thought there. I would like to think I haven’t done any of those. I am not the best Mum in the world but if my lad knows he is loved and if I am honest with him, I’m hoping that will be enough. The rest is a case of reacting to whatever comes, hopefully the right way. I think there is a tendency among many mums to over think it… I try not to but guilt is omnipresent. I do tell him to try and do what I say not what I do because I’m a clutz and I can’t find my own bottom with both hands and I don’t want him to be like that.




  5. I agree with all of these. #8 really hit home. I got my degree in Accounting and worked in that field for 20 years (although I didn’t have loans to pay off). I also had a friend in a corner office who I’d often catch “looking out the window of his corner office wishing he was a landscaper.” Nice post, Tricia. 🙂


    • Thanks, Melissa. I work part time in Accounting. I like my current job, but I can remember a couple of years ago when I would daydream about my writing and wish I was at home doing what I loved. My oldest son has found his passion in cooking, which is a career I never would have guessed he would have pursued. I hope my other children find a passion and follow it, whether that passion leads them to college or not. If you find something you love and can scrape together a living doing it, there’s nothing better than that.


  6. Oh My Goodness! I’m so glad you said these. I don’t have children so it’s hard for me to say things like this even though I teach and have worked with kids for years. People don’t like hearing “parenting” advice from non-parents, but I think some of this is beyond parenting, it’s societal. Thanks for sharing this, especially the one about college.


  7. Pingback: Blogdom Apr. 23-May 21, ’14 | The ToiBox of Words

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