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27 Most Psychologically Damaging Things You Can Say To A Child

The five most psychologically harmful things to say to a child are signaling unworthiness, shaming, threatening, comparing, and instilling prejudice. Making a child feel unworthy by implying they are unwanted or unloved damages their sense of self and belonging. Shaming or belittling can make them feel insignificant. Threatening creates fear and insecurity. Comparing them to others harms their self-esteem, and teaching prejudice skews their view of the world and themselves.

These actions can stem from parents’ emotional issues, stress, or critical behavior. They can lead to distress, low self-esteem, insecurity, and mental health issues in children. To amend hurtful words, acknowledge the mistake, offer a sincere apology, validate feelings, and reflect on future improvement. For anger management, prioritize self-care, identify triggers, reassess situations, and seek professional help to create a healthier family environment.

angry parents point to boy who cries

What are the types of psychologically damaging things you can say to a child?

There are 5 types of psychologically damaging things you can say to a child.

  • Signaling unworthiness
  • Shaming
  • Hurtful
  • Threatening
  • Comparing
  • Instilling prejudice

These 5 types of comments are the worst things a parent can say to a child.

What are the most psychologically damaging things you can say to a child?

Here are the 27 examples of the most psychologically damaging things you can say to a child. They are the worst things a parent can use to hurt a child’s feelings and self-esteem.

  • I wish you were never born.
  • You were an accident. I never wanted you.
  • You are nothing to me.
  • You won’t amount to anything.
  • You’ll never be good enough.
  • You’re so stupid.
  • You are dead to me.
  • You’re such a disappointment.
  • Do the world a favor. Kill yourself.
  • You are nothing without me.
  • Stop bothering me. I don’t want to know anything about you.
  • I wish you were the one who died instead of your brother.
  • You’re such a failure.
  • No one likes a crybaby.
  • I’m ashamed to call you my child.
  • You’re a disgrace to the family.
  • Stop doing those useless things. They’re useless, just like you.
  • You’re living in my house. You follow my rules.
  • Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.
  • Why can’t you be more like your sister?
  • Look at your friend. Why are you so much worse?
  • Everyone else can do it. Why can’t you?
  • What are you depressed about? Just deal with it.
  • Boys don’t cry.
  • Boys/girls don’t play with that kind of toy.
  • You run like a girl.
  • Why are you eating like a boy?

Why is signaling unworthiness psychologically damaging to a child?

Signaling that a child is unworthy is psychologically damaging because being unwanted, unloved, or unvalued strikes at the core of a child’s self-identity and sense of belonging. Such messages create feelings of rejection and abandonment. A child may internalize these messages, which severely erode the child’s self-esteem.​1​

Why is shaming and belittling mentally abusive?

Shaming and belittling are mentally abusive because a child who internalizes these messages will see themselves as insignificant. This perception can lead to conditions such as depression and anti-social behavior later in adolescence and adulthood. One study indicates that teenagers who were shamed by parents more often tended to have depression and delinquent behavior.​2​

How does threatening a child harm them emotionally?

Threatening can harm a child emotionally because it creates fear and insecurity in the child. When a child is constantly subjected to threats, whether of punishment or threats of punishment, they may live in a state of anxiety, never feeling safe or settled. This can disrupt their ability to concentrate, learn, or positively engage with others.

Children with coercive parents are more likely to develop maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as aggression, withdrawal, or deceit. These children are prone to conduct problems and mental illness in the future.​3​

How does comparing a child to others hurt a child’s self-esteem?

Comparing a child to others hurts the child’s self-esteem by sending the negative message that they are not good enough. Low self-esteem is also strongly associated with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.​4​

Why is instilling prejudice toxic to a child?

Instilling prejudice is toxic to a child because it negatively shapes their understanding of themselves and the world. When children are exposed to biased attitudes, especially from parents whom they trust and look up to, children may adopt these prejudiced views.

Such learned prejudice limits a child’s ability to think openly and empathically. It can also cause internal conflict, especially if they find themselves or someone they care about belonging to the stereotyped group.

Children who grow up in an environment where prejudice is normalized may struggle with social interactions and are at risk of perpetuating these biases, contributing to ongoing cycles of intolerance and misunderstanding.

If a family rejects a child for being part of a group like LGBT, it can significantly harm their mental health. Family acceptance is critical to self-esteem, health, and social support. It also helps prevent depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts and actions in teenagers.​5​

Why do parents say hurtful things?

There are 5 reasons why parents say hurtful things to their children.

  1. Projecting emotions: Parents might project their insecurities or emotional pain onto their children if they haven’t found constructive ways to deal with these feelings.
  2. Reaction to stress, frustration, or anger: Parents might react impulsively under stress or when frustrated or angry. This doesn’t excuse their behavior but can sometimes explain it.
  3. Comparison: Comparing children to others, like siblings or classmates, is a common pitfall. While intended as motivation, it often makes the child feel inadequate or like a failure.
  4. Winning arguments: In the heat of an argument, a parent might say hurtful things to “win” the argument or in reaction to something the child said.
  5. Criticism: Attempts to correct or modify a child’s behavior through criticism can sometimes be harsh and hurtful, especially if not done thoughtfully.

What do you do when parents say hurtful things?

You can do the following things to protect yourself when your parents say hurtful things.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings: Recognize and accept your emotions, whether hurt, anger, or sadness. Your feelings are valid.
  2. Find a Support System: Talk to someone you trust and supportive, like a friend, relative, teacher, or counselor, about what you’re going through. Sharing your feelings can provide relief and perspective. Use caution when sharing information, as it might inadvertently reach your parent.
  3. Create Space for yourself: Take time away from the situation to calm down and gather your thoughts. Doing this also prevents heated arguments and allows you to think more clearly about the situation.
  4. Set Boundaries (for adults): If you’re an adult, consider setting boundaries with your parents. Let them know what is and isn’t acceptable in how they speak to you.
  5. Practice Self-Care: Do things that can boost your self-esteem and emotional well-being. This could include hobbies, exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends.
  6. Seek Professional Help: Sometimes, the impact of hurtful words can be deep, especially if it’s ongoing. Seeking help from a mental health professional can be beneficial.
  7. Focus on Healing: Don’t dwell on your anger or frustration. Focus on your healing and find ways to overcome the hurt they caused.

What is psychologically damaging to children?

Here are 10 treatments that are psychologically damaging to children.

  1. Rejection or abandonment: Feeling unwanted can lead to severe emotional distress.
  2. Criticism and shame: It undermines a child’s self-esteem and can create a sense of worthlessness.
  3. Harsh discipline: Lack of clear boundaries can create confusion and insecurity.
  4. Comparing to others: Constant comparison can lower self-esteem and foster resentment.
  5. Emotional Neglect: Not addressing a child’s emotional needs can lead to feelings of abandonment and insecurity.
  6. Lack of Support: Failure to support a child’s interests or challenges can make them feel undervalued.
  7. Physical or Emotional Abuse: This can deeply scar a child’s psyche, leading to long-term mental health issues.
  8. Unrealistic Expectations: Pressuring a child to meet unattainable standards can cause anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
  9. Exposure to violence: Witnessing regular arguments or violence can create a stressful environment, affecting a child’s emotional well-being.
  10. Overprotection: Overbearing can hinder a child’s ability to develop independence and resilience.

What harms kids the most psychologically?

One of the most damaging psychological harms to children is maternal deprivation or disconnection from primary caregivers. This includes a lack of consistent emotional or physical nurturing from parents. Such deprivation can occur due to various reasons, including rejection, abandonment, parental neglect, prolonged separation, or emotional unavailability. In serious cases, researchers have found that maternal deprivation leads to failure to thrive in children.​6​

Why can words be so damaging?

Words can be damaging because they can shape our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and self-concept.​7​ Negative words can lead to a skewed, often negative, way of thinking about themselves and the world. These distortions can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

What do you do when you say something hurtful to your child?

Here are 4 steps to make amends when you say something hurtful to your child.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge your mistake: Take responsibility for your words and understand their impact on your child.
  2. Offer a sincere apology: When apologizing to your child, avoid using “but” as it can imply excuses and not taking full responsibility for your hurtful words. A sincere apology acknowledges the mistake without justification.
  3. Listen to and validate your child’s feelings: Show empathy for how they were affected. Discuss how you can move forward and commit to avoid repeating the hurtful behavior.
  4. Reflect and learn: Reflect on how you can better handle similar situations in the future.

How do I stop being an angry parent?

To stop being an angry parent, prioritize self-care to manage stress, identify triggers that lead to anger, and understand underlying causes, possibly rooted in your childhood. Reappraise situations to avoid misattributing hostile intentions to others. Develop coping strategies like deep breathing.

If anger issues coexist with other mental health problems, seek professional help. This approach helps break the cycle of anger and aggression, creating a healthier environment for your family. Remember, taking control of your anger is a gift to yourself and your family.


  1. 1.
    Kernis MH, Brown AC, Brody GH. Fragile Self‐Esteem in Children and Its Associations With Perceived Patterns of Parent‐Child Communication. Journal of Personality. Published online April 2000:225-252. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.00096
  2. 2.
    Stuewig J, McCloskey LA. The Relation of Child Maltreatment to Shame and Guilt Among Adolescents: Psychological Routes to Depression and Delinquency. Child Maltreat. Published online November 2005:324-336. doi:10.1177/1077559505279308
  3. 3.
    Bor W, Sanders MR. Correlates of Self-Reported Coercive Parenting of Preschool-Aged Children at High Risk for the Development of Conduct Problems. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. Published online September 2004:738-745. doi:10.1080/j.1440-1614.2004.01452.x
  4. 4.
    Sowislo JF, Orth U. Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin. Published online January 2013:213-240. doi:10.1037/a0028931
  5. 5.
    Ryan C, Russell ST, Huebner D, Diaz R, Sanchez J. Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults. Child Adoles Psych Nursing. Published online November 2010:205-213. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6171.2010.00246.x
  6. 6.
    Wright CM. The influence of maternal socioeconomic and emotional factors on infant weight gain and weight faltering (failure to thrive): data from a prospective birth cohort. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Published online January 11, 2006:312-317. doi:10.1136/adc.2005.077750
  7. 7.
    Boroditsky L. Does Language Shape Thought?: Mandarin and English Speakers’ Conceptions of Time. Cognitive Psychology. Published online August 2001:1-22. doi:10.1006/cogp.2001.0748


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *