As parents we have a number of things to manage. I know I often say things without really thinking. For example, how many times do I say “no” without even considering what is being asked? We also have go-to phrases with our kids. Some of these are good, but I believe some of them haven’t been thought through completely. Today I want to give you 6 common parenting phrases we need to stop saying.
So often we choose to say something because we heard it growing up. We may hear others say it, so we repeat it without really thinking it through. When we stop to evaluate these phrases in light of what is best for our kids, we might realize that we shouldn’t be saying them at all or not quite as often as we do.
You may agree with some I have chosen and disagree with others. I think that is great. What I’m really wanting to encourage you to do is think things through before you implant a whole philosophy in your children’s heads. I also know that some people reading this will see the word “Bible” and see there are verses attached. You might be turned off immediately and want to dismiss this article completely. I want to encourage you to read what I have to say anyway. Most who have a gut reaction like that have had a really bad experience with Christians or the church. I want to, on behalf of the church, ask for forgiveness for what you have experienced. I would love for you to set aside your personal experience and consider what the Bible does say on some of these topics with an open mind. Then, you can totally just make your decision on what is said.
I know I can raise my hand and say, “Guilty,” with many of these phrases below. I think it is really healthy to stop and think about some of the things you are directly or indirectly teaching your kids by what you say before you continue in the same habits. The more thoughtful we become as parents, the more powerful or words will become with our kids.
6 Common Parenting Phrases We Need to Stop Saying
- “Ignore them.” – When we hear that a child is being mean to our child we often say, “Just ignore them.” We might be talking about a sibling or a peer who is showing obnoxious behavior. I’m not talking about the big stuff – the bullying where we need to step in and be an advocate for our child. I’m talking about the little interactions that kids have that are either annoying or hurtful. Is it right to tell our child, “Just ignore them?” I’m going to propose something different. First of all, it can be really challenging for our children to just ignore. Therefore, I think it would be a lot more healthy to have a deeper conversation with your child on the topic. Is teaching your child to ignore others a Biblical teaching? I don’t think so. The Bible teaches us to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44 Therefore, I try and teach my kids that when we have someone who is being hurtful, we need to pray for them. We are not rude, and we do not ignore them. We are not mean back. It’s definitely one of the bigger challenges of scripture. It’s hard to love others who are treating us poorly, but love is a choice. I have heard amazing stories of people who have chosen love over hate in the most horrific circumstance. Have you heard of Elisabeth Elliot whose husband was a missionary to a tribe who ended up killing him? She was able to return to this tribe and, in love, tell them about Jesus. We are responsible for teaching our kids about Jesus’ kind of love…unconditional. To say, “ignore them,” isn’t the message we want to be giving. We have the challenging task of teaching them how to pray and love others while also finding a way to self-preserve, keeping Jesus as our source of strength. No easy task – I assure you. Instead of saying, “just ignore them,” I try to teach the kids to pray for them and then follow what it says in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him (God) because he cares for you.”
- “They’re siblings. They fight.” – Siblings fight. Yes, they do. However, do you find yourself using that as an excuse. We don’t want to fall into the trap of allowing inappropriate behavior and life interactions because of circumstance. It feels easier to dismiss it, doesn’t it? They’re siblings. Of course they will fight. Therefore, I am not going to take the tougher road of teaching them through this. Fighting does not need to dictate your family home life. We need to teach our kids to respect one of the most important relationships they have been given…their brother or their sister. Of course they will fight. They are human, and we all get on each other’s nerves. However, are you taking the time to teach them in these situations rather than just using that as an excuse. We all need to learn to live in close community with others, and the Bible teaches that, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18. Yes, this includes your siblings. If you find your kids using phrases like, “Oh, it’s just my sister,” it needs correction. No!! This is not “JUST your sister.” Like I said in section above, love is a choice. We need to help our kids to learn to love, even when it is hard…even when someone really gets on our nerves. They will need to learn to live and work with others in close circumstances – jobs, school, peers, marriage, and with their own kids someday. Your home is the training ground to help them learn to handle relationships well. “It’s JUST my sister” needs to be changed to “because it’s my sister I want to…” It’s definitely a harder road to get involved. Yes, there are times they need to learn to sort it out on their own. In the younger years, especially, it will take loads of teaching over and over again. However, I am seeing that if you work really hard in those younger years, it gets easier and easier (with of course bumps along the road). It’s not too late to work on those relationships now and have a change in your house in how people choose to treat one another.
- “Do as I say, not as I do.” – I think most of us know the dangers of this. However, I still hear the phrase said. We may not say it directly to our kids, but I definitely hear it laughed about among adults. Modeling behavior is one of the powerful ways to teach your child. If you are trying to train things in your kids that you are not living out yourselves, they’re going to see it. They can see hypocricy so clearly, and I know my kids have called me out on it. “Mom, you want us to not yell, but you just yelled at us.” Oh, they are so right, and I need to take time to apologize and change my actions. Attitude problems in your kids? You might need to check your own. I know I have had to make big changes in this area. Don’t like the words coming out of their mouth? Check your own language. Is their tone of voice off? How does yours sound? Your child’s behaviors and actions aren’t always a reflection of you. They are individuals who get the opportunity to make their own choices. They are going to sway from what is right and good just because they are human. However, I know that I’ve had to do some major self-checks along the way to work on getting my own attitude, heart and actions right. This can be me changing things like attitude, tone of voice, heart of selfishness, lack of patience…really the list could go on and on, so I will spare you. While we might not use the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do,” verbally, we often see this phrase reflected in our own attitudes and responses to our children. Do you want to see a huge change in your children? It often takes a huge change in you.
- “Because I said so.” – I have to admit that this is a hard one for me to write. Why? Because really, I think kids do sometimes need to obey just “because I said so.” I’m the parent. I’ve been given the responsibility of being in charge of doing my best for them and raise them well. We need to obey God just because He said so. However, there’s more to it than that, and I think overusing the phrase “because I said so,” can cause resentment in a child. The truth about God is that yes, we obey because He said so. However, His Word offers more than that. The Bible is rich with why. If you opened the Bible, and it said, Genesis 1:1, “because I said so,” and that was the only verse in the Bible then maybe this discussion would be over. However, that is not what the Bible does. God takes the time to explain to us the why in a lot of words. I believe we need to take the time to explain to our kids so that they understand the heart behind it all. What is God’s reasoning behind us obeying Him? He is bigger then us and understands more. He knows what is best for our lives because His perspective is so vast. He loves us more than we can imagine. He knows that although the ways He sets out may seem more difficult and take a lot more self control, they really yield the most rewarding and life experience full of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I think that our relationship with our own children is a reflection of God’s relationship with us. Of course, we are not perfect and don’t have God’s complete picture. However, our picture is larger than our child’s. We love them and want the best for them. Are we communicating that in our interaction with them or are we saying, “because I said so.” I really try to avoid that phrase. I want my kids to understand the “why” behind things. I want them to realize that my words aren’t just some power trip but because I have the best interest for them and the family in mind. I try and take the time to answer their “why” questions. I know there will be times where “because I said so” may be appropriate. They should not use their “why” questions as an excuse for disobedience or sass. I am just warning that overuse may counter-act the heart change we want to see in our kids.
- “I’m going to count to three.” – We all hear it. Most of us have used it. It’s one of those parenting techniques that has been passed down. Is it really what is best for our child? “I want you to obey, but you don’t really need to do it right away,” is the message you are sending to your child. I want my kids to learn to obey right away. The counting to three technique tends to come already after they have refused to do what you have said. “Johnny, can you come here please.” Silence. No one comes running. A bit of time passes. “I’m going to count to three…1…2..” He starts running. A phrase we use in our house is we want kids to “obey right away, all the way and with a happy heart.” I know the word “obey” has become a four letter word to a lot of people. However, I believe in teaching obedience. I believe kids need to learn to obey…obey teachers, parents, bosses and most importantly God. Therefore, I want my kids to learn that when we don’t obey right away, it’s still disobedience. Counting to three is allowing disobedience. I do count. I count to help speed things up. “I want you to have your shoes on in 30 seconds.” Start the countdown. I also like to prepare my kids ahead of time. “I’m going to ask you to stop what you are doing in 3 minutes so you can finish your homework.” However, I believe the countdown that most parents do is teaching them they don’t need to listen to you right away.
- “You’re just hungry.” or “You’re just tired.” – I find that I often want to make excuses for my children. I think it often comes when I’m embarrassed. My kid is throwing a fit at the park. “She woke up early this morning. She’s just tired.” We say it to our children and in front of our children. These things may be true. I’m also not saying that we should erase these sayings all together. I think it is GREAT to help our kids identify the physical needs we have that impact behavior. I will often try and help them identify these factors. I will tie behavior into sleep, nutrition, lack of physical activity or emotional circumstances. I believe it is important to help point these out to your child. That said, we often let those phrases end there. “You are just tired.” Period. It can easily become an excuse for rotten behavior. I know I can try and dismiss my own behavior on sleep, time of the month or outside experiences. Those things come in to play, but the teachable moment and life choice is, “How am I going to respond to that?” Am I going to be obnoxious and make everyone else deal with my attitude problems because of my circumstances, or am I going to respond with dignity and grace? Self control is one of the most important character traits we can teach our kids (link goes to “self control” in my character development series). I do use the phrase, “You are tired with my kids…” However, I don’t leave it at that. I follow up with the phrase, “…so, it’s going to take a lot more effort to have self-control right now.” Life happens, and we can make excuses our entire life for our actions and attitudes. Rather, I want kids to know that, with God’s help, we can actually respond to any circumstance the right way. On our own, yes, it’s really hard and really just impossible all of the time. However, God gave us his spirit to be able to help us choose right and choose His ways even when life doesn’t feel perfect around us (which it never really is).” How we respond to adversity helps define our character. 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches us, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
I hope my words today have helped you weigh your own words. I know I’ve been convicted by the things I say and what I am really teaching behind those common phrases. What I’m mostly encouraging today is putting a lot of thought behind your parenting rather than just going through the motions. It takes intention and being present in parenting to raise children in this world.
I loved this list! One I would add though is ” It’s not a big deal”. To our kids, whatever they are trying to talk to us about IS a big deal. Telling them it’s not, even though from our adult perspective in the scheme of life a missing toy,etc. isn’t. just belittles their emotions. If we want our children to talk to us as they get older, we need to validate little feelings at a young age. Just my two cents:)
That’s a really good addition. I do try and teach my kids to be more laid back about things, however. That said, you a right. I have totally needed to adjust my brain to remember that at younger ages, things will be a big deal to them. Validating feelings is super important in development. Brain studies show that empathy is such a important component to model and teach kids in their development. Thanks for commenting.
Great list! As parents and grandparents we really need to invest fully into our children/ grandchildren. Taking time to listen to them and to teach them patiently but consistently, and to really think about our words and actions is crucial.
I would also add “Good boy/good girl” to the list. Not only does it label the person as good or bad, it is also too vague and does not address the action or attitude itself. It would be much better to be specific and say something like “You were very careful building this tower.” or “I am so glad you listened straight away.”…
That is a good one to add. Where were you when I was writing this? Maybe I’ll have to do a follow up on this concept. Thank you so much for a thoughtful response. I think you are writing that it is about weighing our words and being patient and consistent. I think the patience part is what I struggle with the most. Blessings.
Hello! Overall I enjoyed your article and thought there many good points. I would like to bring up, as just some thought’s for discussion, what you said when you quoted that you say at your house, “obey right away, all the way and with a happy heart.” That was a rule at our house growing up too, worded slightly differently to “with a cheerful attitude”. As an adult having grown up with that, I don’t have much issue with the first 2 parts, but the ‘always be cheerful,’ or ‘happy heart’ created a lot of resentment in me. It taught me that my own emotions or thoughts were not as important as mom and dads and to get good at hiding any negative emotions (instead of learning how to deal with them) and to get good at putting on a fake ‘happy’ smile. I still cringe to this day thinking about it. I try to teach my stepson that he doesn’t need to ‘feel’ happy about doing some of things we ask him to do, but the key is that he can’t be disrespectful ,if he’s not happy about it, and that he still needs to do it. Perhaps the meaning of the phrase in your household is slightly different than it was for mine, but I’d love to discuss more
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me in such a gracious way. I totally hear your heart here, and I’m glad you brought it up. I totally agree about teaching our kids not to stuff their emotions. The new movie, Inside Out, really emphasizes the importance of all of our emotions. Joy is always trying to snuff out the others, but it’s those emotions working together that make us human. I really want to teach my kids empathy by recognizing their emotions and take time to teach them to label and talk about our own feelings as we respond to things in life – the good the bad and the ugly. It is healthy to feel anger, sadness, loneliness, etc. As a mom…and a human really, the trick becomes working on our attitude about things in life. What do I let my heart dwell on? I can make a choice to let circumstances make me grumpy or find a way to experience joy. I think of the Bible verse that says, “We should rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces character, character produces perseverance and perseverance leads to joy.” (that was my own paraphrase) I also love the verse that says, “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is nobel, whatever is right…if anything is admirable or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Easier said than done, right? It’s hard to look on the bright side or fix my attitude when things aren’t going right. I candidly talked about my own attitude problems in this post: https://meaningfulmama.com/2014/12/theres-attitude-problem-house.html. I often have to catch myself because I do have a tendency to spiral into the negative. It’s not that I can’t feel angry or sad, but it’s how long I allow my mind to dwell there. I think life is going to give us challenges and struggles, and how we approach those struggles and work our way through them is part of what makes us stronger, more empathetic and more inspiring. So, I guess I don’t want my kids to learn to stuff their emotions, and we try and talk about these feelings openly. However, I also want my kids to learn that how they respond to life is a choice. We can focus on the negative or the positive. I love your thoughts and your personal experiences here. I would love to continue the discussion if you have more to add. Thanks for dialoguing with me on this.
People still say ‘because I said so?’ Wow. I was sure that went out with my generation. I guess not.
Ha! I think I have been tempted, but it didn’t sit right. I’ve definitely heard people use it. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you so much for this amazing article! I have read a lot of parenting articles but none of them are so biblically accurate! so many people have different parenting opinions but none of their opinions matter unless they can be backed up in scripture 🙂 thank you so much for taking the time to write this it has really really helped me make changes in my home!
Thank you so much for commenting. What an encouraging comment. I am glad you found this perspective helpful, and I hope you’ll stick around more. Parenting isn’t easy, but my passion and goal is to do it well and encourage others on the road. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.