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12 Things Parents Say (& What Kids Really Hear when We Say Them)

Photo by Saptak Ganguly / Stocksy United / 763855
Photo by Saptak Ganguly / Stocksy United

"Be careful!"

"Hurry up!”

“Be good.”

Phrases like these are common to the parenting lexicon—we’ve all uttered them from time to time. Used occasionally, most of these cliché things parents say are harmless enough. But when we use certain phrases repetitively, some off-the-cuff phrases may contain unintended messages that can be discouraging to children.

Take a look at these 12 common kid phrases—and try to hear them through a child’s ears. As with many other things parenting, the intention behind many of them may be positive, but the actual message is a little off.

We’ve offered up the language to tweak the message just a tad (see below). After all, words do have power to a child…and we all want our children to feel encouraged and positive, and have a sense of possibility for their lives.

Common Kid Phrases and how to Say Them a Little Better

1. You often say: “Be good.”

What a child may hear: “You aren't usually a good person.”

Say it a little better: “Use your teamwork skills and have fun!”


2. You often say: “Don't get into trouble.”

What a child may hear: “You get into trouble if I don't watch you.”  

Say it a little better: “Respect yourself and others.”


3. You often say: “Not so fast; not so high; not so far.”

What a child may hear: “Live life at only 60 percent.”

Say it a little better: “Hold on tight to be safe.”


4. You often say: “Hurry up!”

What a child may hear: “Give up your desires for mine.”

Say it a little better: “I need to leave in ten minutes.”


5. You often say: “Don't cry; don't be a baby.”

What a child may hear: “Don't express your emotions.”

Say it a little better: “I like how you share your emotions.”


6. You often say: “Stop whining.”

What a child may hear: “Don't ask for what you want.”

Say it a little better: “Use your words; use your inside voice.”


7. You often say: “Here, let me do that.”

What a child may hear: “I don't have faith that you can do it.”

Say it a little better: “You can do it! Would you like some help?”


8. You often say: “You aren’t old enough to do that yet.”

What a child may hear: “You are not trustworthy yet.”

Say it a little better: “I'm not quite ready for you to do that yet.”


9. You often say: “We can't afford it.”

What a child may hear: (Hearing this can create scarcity thinking in your child.)

Say it a little better: “I am unwilling to spend my money on that, but I can help you figure out a way to earn money for it.”


10. You often say: “Be careful!”

What a child may hear: “The world is a scary place.”

Say it a little better: “What do you need to remember to do when you cross the street?”


11. You often say: “Be quiet!”

What a child may hear: “Don't express yourself.”

Say it a little better: “I love your energy, but I’m trying to concentrate. Would you please move into another room?”


12. You often say: “I don't care.”

What a child may hear: (If said often enough, your child may think you really don’t care.)

Say it a little better: “If you want to, that’s totally fine—either way works for me.”

Pick one or two of the above phrases that you might be uttering and try out the tweaked message instead. See if you get a different response from your child—and even from yourself.

Meet Kim and Ann.

Certified Parent Educators and Super Moms Kim DeMarchi and Ann DeWitt share a love for helping families create deeper connections, foster respect, and (of course) have a heckuva lot of fun. (Fun and laughter are key ingredients in family life, they’ll both tell you!) DeMarchi holds a Master of Education; DeWitt earned her Master in Clinical Psychology. They’ve been penning Positive Parenting articles for KinderCare’s wonderful families since 2015. Find them online at EmpoweredParenting.com and DeWittCounseling.com.


Read more articles by Kim and Ann.

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