9 Things Parents Should Never Say When Disciplining a Child

A parent disciplining her child

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The words you say to your child will have a lasting impact on how your child feels about you, as well as how he feels about himself. When your child misbehaves, choose your words carefully. Here are nine things you should never say when disciplining your child:

1. “You act just like your mother!”

Telling your child his misbehavior reminds you of someone else – whether it’s the other parent or some other person whose behavior you don’t appreciate – isn’t helpful. Even comparisons that are meant to be a little more positive, like “Why can’t you sit at the table quietly like your sister does?” can be downright damaging. Honor your child’s unique spirit and make it clear that he’s his own person.

2. “You’re such a troublemaker!”

Labeling your child as “a little monster” or “my mischievous one” could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, even positive labels, like referring to your child as “the athletic one” or the “math star,” could have a negative impact on your child’s self-worth.

3. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Discipline your child’s behavior, but not the emotion. Kids need to know that their emotions are OK, but that it’s the behavior that is unacceptable. If your child is crying because he feels sad, don’t tell him he should feel differently. If however, he’s screaming and behaving in a disruptive manner, give him a consequence and coach him to use healthier coping skills to deal with uncomfortable emotions in the future.

4. “Have you learned your lesson yet?”

Discipline should be about teaching your child to learn from mistakes, not shaming him for messing up. Asking him if he’s learned his lesson implies that consequences were meant to punish, not teach. A better question might be, “What could you do differently next time?” to ensure he understands how he can make a better choice in the future.

5. “Just wait until your father gets home!”

Don’t imply that the other parent is the real disciplinarian and you can’t handle misbehavior. This will only set up an unhealthy family dynamic where you paint yourself as incapable and the other parent as an ogre. The most effective consequences are given immediately so try to deal with behavior problems in the moment.

6. “Thanks for picking that up. Why can’t you do that every time?”

Never try to disguise criticism as praise. It’s insulting and ineffective. Praise your child for good behavior. Say, “I’m so happy you put your dish in the sink right when I asked you to!” While there are times where it’s appropriate to offer instruction, keep your praise genuine and avoid giving those back-handed compliments.

7. “You’re making me mad right now!”

One of the things mentally strong parents don’t do, is blame their children for their emotions. Take personal responsibility for your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings and don’t tell your child that he—nor anyone else—has the power to make you feel anything.

A better way to frame your frustration is to say something like, “I really don’t like the choice you’re making today.”

8. “Stop arguing with me.”

It takes two people to argue and each time you remind your child to stop arguing, you’re keeping the disagreement going. Offer a warning, follow through with a consequence, or simply use selective ignoring to put an end to an argument.

9. “I’m not going to tell you again.”

Repeating your directions is a bad habit, and reminding your child that you aren’t going to keep repeating your directions is an even worse habit. Nagging sends the message that your child doesn’t need to listen the first time. If your child doesn’t follow through the first time you give instructions, use an if…then warning that clearly explains what will happen if he doesn’t follow through with your directions.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.