Psychologists know for a fact that childhood plays an important role in shaping one's personality in adolescence and even adulthood. Most parents attest to the difficulty of raising children, and do their best to instill noble values into their children.
I'm not a parent. I'll be the first to admit that I have no lived experience of being a parent--but I do have the valuable experience of being a licensed therapist and once being a child myself.
Learning more about the wide range of parenting techniques employed by different cultures gives me an appreciation for the diverse ways of raising children. While there is no magical formula to raising successful children, there are certain statements that cause harm to your children and society at large that shouldn't be said.
Here are ten things parents of exceptional kids never say to their children:
1. Suck it up and be a man--just rub some dirt on it.
Despite your good intentions, telling your children to keep their feelings to themselves is harmful to their development.
It teachings your kids that their emotions should not be expressed, and this leads to problems like anxiety and depression in the future.
Instead, monitor your own reaction to the situation, offer a calming presence, and help your children label and communicate their feelings.
2. That's not very ladylike--girls don't do that.
Just as the first example creates gendered expectations, this second example shames female-identified children who don't fit the feminine gender stereotype.
Limiting your children's gender expression to fit a false dichotomy not only makes it more difficult for them to feel safe and understood in their own skin, it also reinforces the systemic inequality of a society that awards privilege to men and cisgendered individuals.
3. Boys will be boys.
Justifying violent or harmful behavior by men, however young, contributes to rape culture. Telling your children that boys are inherently more aggressive and that their aggression is okay because of their gender identity puts people's lives at risk when those children become adults.
4. Stop crying and stop acting like a baby!
While you may be frustrated with your child's crying, it's important to remember that they don't know how to manage emotions yet. Children learn how to process their feelings by watching you handle yours, even when they're driving you up a wall.
Yelling at your child only makes things worse and teaches them bad habits for the future.
5. You're just too sensitive--you need thicker skin.
When you tell your child that they are too sensitive, they attach to the idea that they are somehow flawed and fragile. When a child gets told over and over that they are sensitive, they start keeping their feelings to themselves, because your lack of validation makes them feel like the truth is undesirable.
6. Stand up for yourself--hit them back!
There's a difference between assertiveness and violence. Teaching your children that they need to fight back may be necessary depending on your neighborhood, but ultimately violence only perpetuates violence.
Instead of encouraging low-level acting out, help your child practice being more assertive.
7. I'm on a diet--I feel fat.
The fastest way to teach your children that they're flawed is to discuss your own body image issues. People aren't born with body image issues or eating disorders--they're learned from others.
If you want your children to be happy with the way they look, the best way is to model that behavior, no matter how difficult that may be.
8. You're okay.
While it often comes from a good place, giving too much assurance teaches children to minimize the importance of their feelings.
If your child tells you or shows you that they are not okay, give them the time to figure out what's going on and then ask for their needs to be met. Teaching them this process increases interpersonal skills and builds confidence for future relationships.
9. Why can't you be more like your brother/sister?
Highlighting a sibling rivalry is a great way to create emotional distance and competition between your children. Showing favoritism isolates each person--even the one who gets praised.
10. I'm ashamed/disappointed in you.
Telling your child that you're ashamed or disappointed in them sends the message that they, not their behavior, are flawed. This deep sense of shame becomes engrained in their personality and takes years to repair. Make clear that it is their behavior and not themselves that is the problem.
The number one rule to keep in mind is this: validate, label, and normalize.
The more that you can make your child feel heard, help them label their feelings, and then teach them that feelings are normal, the happier they'll become in adulthood.