Parents who raise mentally strong kids never use these 7 phrases when their children are young, says psychotherapist


Every parent wants their children to be happy and successful.

The best way to ensure that is to teach them mental toughness as early as possible, according to psychotherapist Amy Morin. Mentally tough children are more likely to have high self-esteem, develop resilience that allows them to stay positive amid challenges and learn from their failures.

That means choosing your words carefully around your kids, especially in stressful situations where it’s easy to say whatever you think will stop a tantrum or calm a worrying fit. Certain words or phrases could unintentionally send the wrong message, Morin says.

“All parents do these things sometimes or say them occasionally,” Morin, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast, tells CNBC Make It. “But that’s an opportunity to then teach your kids how you learn from your mistakes, how you can grow and change [and] do things differently.”

Here are seven phrases that parents of mentally strong kids avoid using when raising their children, according to Morin:

‘Calm down!’

It’s never a good idea to tell your children how they should be feeling, even if you’re just trying to calm them down or cheer them up, Morin says: “We want to send the message, it’s OK to feel however you’re feeling. But it’s important to pay attention to what you’re doing with those feelings.”

Instead, try something like this, she recommends: “It looks like you’re really angry right now.”

Help your child understand that it’s fine to feel upset, and gently push them toward an activity you know will help them calm down.

“Teach them what to do when you’re angry,” Morin says. “So instead of throwing something or yelling, maybe you color a picture or you go outside and run or you listen to music for a few minutes.”

‘Don’t worry about it.’

It’s unhelpful to tell kids what to think, even if you’re just trying to allay their fears, Morin says.

“When somebody says, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ our worries don’t automatically go away,” she explains. “A better strategy is to teach kids: What can you do when you’re worried?”

Instead, try asking a hypothetical question: “If your friend was worried about this, what would you say?”

Typically, kids can think more rationally by removing themselves from the situation, Morin says. If their friend is worried about a test coming up, for example, they might tell them to study hard and everything will be fine.

“When they learn to give themselves that same message then they can learn, ‘OK, I can teach myself to manage my thoughts in a healthier way,’” she says.

‘You’ll do fine.’

A positive outlook can help your child build confidence, but nobody has a “crystal ball,” Morin says. You can’t actually predict when your child will succeed, or when they’ll suffer a disappointment.

In other words, promising your child they’ll succeed, only to see them come up short, can actually hurt their confidence — while “damaging your credibility” for the next time you try to cheer them up, she says.

“Instead of saying, ‘You’re going to win!’ … the better message is: ‘Get out there and do your best. And if it doesn’t go well, that’s OK. We’ll deal with that too,’” Morin says.

‘Don’t ever let me catch you doing that again.’

This phrase is often uttered out of frustration, and a genuine desire to help kids avoid bad or dangerous habits.

But “kids are sneaky,” Morin says — and if you only warn them of the consequences of being caught, they’ll simply learn to get better at hiding bad behavior from you.

“They’re going to glue the lamp back together the next time it breaks, or throw away their paper [with a bad grade] before you see it,” Morin says, adding that if your children are honest with you about their mistakes, you can help them learn and grow.

Instead, Morin suggests saying: “You’re going to do this again, and you’re going to be tempted to hide it and cover it up. Here’s what we could do instead.”

‘You’re the best!’

There’s nothing wrong with praising your child when they perform well.

But if your kids think they’re only deserving of praise if they outperform everyone else, they’ll suffer from unrealistic expectations and anxiety over the prospect of finishing anywhere but first, Morin says.

In extreme cases, this can lead to kids trying to finish first at any cost, even if they have to break the rules. “These are the kids [who] end up cheating when they get a bit older, because they think that’s what is most important to Mom or Dad — to be the best, rather than to be the nice kid or the honest kid,” Morin says.

Instead, praise your child for their process — studying hard or putting in a strong effort — rather than the outcome, Morin advises. It can help kids stay motivated to work hard and succeed in the future, psychologists often note.

'It's perfect!'

Similarly, beware of perfectionism: A child who thinks they must always be "perfect" to gain praise or love from their parents. Research shows that perfectionism in children is related to a variety of mental health problems, from anxiety to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Telling your child that his painting is "perfect" or that he played "perfectly" in a soccer game isn't completely harmless, says Morin, but these comments can be the beginning of a pattern that children develop. Pays attention to every mistake.

"Praise their effort rather than the result," she advises. "Whether you thought the pitch was beautiful, or you thought they did a fantastic job on the field, you can praise them for trying hard to try and score. And, if they fall, to get back up again.

'You're driving me crazy.'

The idea that your feelings are affected by someone else's behavior is counterintuitive, Morin says. This can cause children to feel that they are not responsible for their actions. She may also exhibit manipulative behavior, such as hitting when your child hangs around other children instead of processing her own feelings.

"[Kids] don't want to grow up accusing other people of driving them crazy, ruining their day, making them feel terrible all the time," says Morin. "We want children to know: 'I have the power to control the way I think, feel and behave.'

Try using phrases like "I don't like the way you're acting right now" or "I don't like the way you're acting," she advises.

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