Family psychologist Svetlana Merkulova believes that even one carelessly spoken phrase can have a strong negative impact on the mind of a small child. That’s why it’s very important when interacting with your child to pick your words carefully, and in some cases avoid saying certain things at all.
“When I was your age, I was doing great“
From birth up to the age of six, mom and dad are essentially like gods for their child: they seem to know everything. They help the child to form an attitude towards the world, and towards them personally. Certain phrases seem to suggest competition between parent and offspring: ’You’ll never catch me! Whatever you do I can still do better!’ There’s a high chance that children who are brought up hearing such phrases will grow up endlessly trying to prove how good they are to their family. Sure, this kind of thing might inspire them to strive to achieve their goals. But the problem is they will be aiming to get somewhere not because they want to for themselves, but because they want to impress their parents, to show them that he or she is truly worthy of them. When they grow up, these people will never be happy with the things they achieve, even when they should be; their happiness will depend on their parent’s approval.
”You’re my little monkey, my little piglet!“ (etc.)
As soon as parents start saying this kind of thing to their children, they’re already on the road to dehumanising them — to turning them into an object, a toy, which they can do whatever they want with. At the start of their life, your son or daughter will interpret literally anything you say to them as something positive, because they trust you completely. Even if you were to say something nasty, they could go on to repeat it themselves if they hear it enough times. Therefore you should think carefully about how you speak to them. It’s much, much better to always use the child’s actual name when addressing them than a heap of cute and cheerful nicknames. The child’s real name is the key to the way it presents itself to the world, how it will know itself in the world, and how it will understand that it is valued as an individual.
“That other boy did better than you on the test”
The majority of parents have the very best intentions. They might often say to their kid something along the following lines: ’Don’t worry about it, the same thing used to happen to me, but look, I turned out fine.’ They say such things because they can forget how upset they were when their parents used to tell them off, or chastise them for not being as good as others. The latter in particular (’why did she do better than you on the test?’) can be a very painful experience which children carry into adulthood. They end up hating the person they were always compared to. A child intensely dislikes being compared to others, be it their classmate, sister or brother. As adults, such people will continue to compare themselves to others — and this is never a healthy thing.
”If you do that one more time, I’ll stop loving you“
A similar phrase to this one is: ’I’ll only love you if you…[do this for me]’. This kind of talk can make a child extremely anxious to get everything right, to never make the slightest mistake. He will strain to guess exactly what his parents want from him, setting aside his own innate wishes. When this happens, it’s like he’s not even a child any more — because to be a child is to be carefree. This anxiousness to oblige others and the mentality of putting oneself second can very easily continue into adulthood.
”Don’t make me ashamed of you“
Those children who are unfortunate to regularly hear a phrase like ’I’m ashamed of you’ from their parents develop the strong desire to constantly show others what they think is the real, good person which they are; when they get any kind of positive attention which they crave, they have no idea how to deal with it. They might run away and hide, they might go crazy. Children in this situation feel that they don’t really have a choice in life — they will always be someone their parents are ashamed of. If you saying something like this to them, you can deeply wound your child emotionally.
“You’re just like your father/mother”
If said in anger, this phrase is a clear sign that the parents is not happy in their relationship, and one or both of them has turned to venting their frustrations at their child. The parents are too reluctant to lay out their grievances openly, so they try to speak to the other ’through’ the child — and, naturally, all the latter hears is negative things, and they stick in its mind for a long time. If the mom tells her child: ’You’re so stubborn, just like your father!’ this means that she can stand the way her partner never agrees to do anything he doesn’t want. And in turn the child thinks: I don’t want to be like my dad, he’s stubborn, and he’s bad. The child has to live with these negative thoughts when they are projected on to it by the parent.
“If you don’t finish eating that, you’ll grow up to be a weakling“
I knew a young woman once who’d been told since she was little things like, ’If you don’t finish your meal, it will come and haunt you all night’. However silly this sounds, she ended up with a phobia of certain kinds of food — that is, her parents’ warning had the exact opposite effect of what they had intended. Phrases like this are a form of manipulation. Quite often, it’s grandparents who use them, of course, for the understandable reason that they grew up in much hungrier times. But they can easily be passed on to their adult children, who use them with their own kids. The problem is, whilst well-meaning, they can lead to all kinds of emotional issues with regards to food — and in turn, things like that can lead to weight issues, self-consciousness, and a whole host of problems.
”If you don’t behave, we’ll give you away to your uncle”
This kind of phrase can make a child think that they are only valued by their parents so long as he or she conforms to their wishes. It’s like they’re saying: ’Don’t be yourself, you should behave only in a way which we approve of’. Children who have this experience frequently grow up not knowing what it is they want out of life, and try to please everyone else instead.
“I’m going to punish you later!”
This kind of phrase immediately suggests to a child that their parents have the right to do whatever they want with them and that their feelings and perspective are worthless. Their parents are at once transformed into overseers, who have the power to punish or forgive. Children who hear this not only start to see their parents as their boss rather than a loving guardian, but also end up living in constant fear of punishment and do everything they can to please their parents.
“I don’t want to see you or hear you”
This translates as: ’You ruined my life, I want you to disappear. You shouldn’t exist.’ Naturally, a child can end up with a deep sense of guilt if this kind of thing is said to them; he or she may think that they are the reason that their parents are not happy.
So, you have to think very carefully before you say something to your child. All of these phrases could have profound consequences for a person’s life; they might end up carrying the painful burden of something said to them without thought for the rest of their days. It might be a good idea to have someone observe what you say for a while, if you can’t manage it yourself — you might find room for improvement, in a way which could immensely improve your child’s life.