Parenting is a challenging journey filled with countless up and downs. It can feel like riding an emotional rollercoaster with plenty of twists and turns.
Over time, parents tend to pick up phrases passed down from generation to generation or from one parent to another. These well-intentioned words of wisdom, however, can sometimes rub kids the wrong way.
Parents might throw these phrases around because they think they’re helpful, protective, or supportive.
But children might see things differently.
Some of the most annoying things parents say fall into the following categories.
- “Because I said so.”
- “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
- “You’ll thank me later.”
- “You’re too young to understand.”
- “When you’re a parent, you’ll understand.”
Parents often use these phrases to assert their authority or quickly end a discussion or argument with their children. But what may seem like an efficient solution to us can convey a different message to our kids. It implies the parent’s view is the only one that matters.
We may be unintentionally instilling in children that they can ignore others’ opinions and rely on their power or status to achieve their goals, as their view is the only one that matters.
- Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.
- “Wait until your father/mother gets home.”
Using threats as a means to persuade someone is never an effective approach, and this holds true in the parent-child relationship as well.
When you threaten a friend, they can end the friendship and remove themselves from the situation. However, children do not have the same freedom to walk away from their parents.
Consequently, when a parent threatens their child, they are essentially putting the child’s sense of safety and well-being at risk, leaving the child feeling helpless and vulnerable.
This approach can significantly impact a child’s mental health, as it creates an environment of fear, uncertainty, and instability. Threats can be particularly damaging for children who have a fearful temperament. These children are at an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders1.
- “When I was your age…”
- “Back in my days…”
- “You don’t know how good you have it.”
- “You have it so easy compared to when I was a kid.”
- “Finish it. There are starving children in Africa.”
- “Back in my day, we didn’t have…”
These comparative phrases are often intended to provide children with alternative viewpoints or a broader understanding of the world.
However, for children, such comparisons may seem irrelevant or disconnected from their own experiences. They might struggle to comprehend how another person’s inability to do something in their unique circumstances prevents them from doing the same thing in a different situation.
Instead of drawing meaningful lessons from these comparisons, children may feel confused, misunderstood, or dismissed.
- “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”
- “If your friends decided to rob a bank, would you join them?”
On the one hand, parents rely on comparisons and analogies to make their children see their perspective or comply with specific requests. On the other hand, they use oversimplified, unrealistic, and non-comparable analogies to convince their children to abandon a particular idea or pursuit.
Using double standards can create confusion and send mixed messages.
- “Why can’t you be more like your friend?”
- “That’s why I like your sister more.”
While parents might believe that drawing social comparisons will inspire their children to study more diligently or put in extra effort, this approach can have the opposite effect.
Research has shown that children constantly exposed to social comparison environments tend to exhibit diminished intrinsic motivation and decreased academic performance2.
- “I’m not your friend, I’m your parent.”
- “I am the parent, and you are the child.”
- “As long as you live under my roof, you’ll follow my rules.”
These statements are often used by parents to assert their superior status and authority and emphasize that their children must comply with their rules and expectations.
However, they can carry implicit messages, including, “Since I’m your parent, I don’t need to treat you kindly or fairly, and you still have to obey me.”
By emphasizing the power imbalance in this parent-child relationship, they also imply that mutual respect is unnecessary. Children have to respect their parents but not the other way around.
- “It’s OK. It’s a small thing.”
- “No, it doesn’t hurt.”
- “It’s no big deal.”
Some parents believe that downplaying the severity or importance of a situation will help comfort their children and alleviate their distress or anxiety. Others dismiss the child’s feelings because, to them, the issue is trivial.
In reality, it tends to do the opposite of what parents want.
Invaliding children’s feelings is associated with emotion dysregulation. Teenagers whose parents regularly dismiss their emotions tend to have more mental health issues, such as depression, and externalizing behaviors, such as aggression3.
- 1.Brooker RJ, Buss KA. Harsh parenting and fearfulness in toddlerhood interact to predict amplitudes of preschool error-related negativity. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Published online July 2014:148-159. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2014.03.001
- 2.Hanus MD, Fox J. Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education. Published online January 2015:152-161. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.019
- 3.Buckholdt KE, Parra GR, Jobe-Shields L. Intergenerational Transmission of Emotion Dysregulation Through Parental Invalidation of Emotions: Implications for Adolescent Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors. J Child Fam Stud. Published online June 25, 2013:324-332. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9768-4